So, we are an NGO and we develop the new IT system for it on a voluntary basis that our members will use. It is a must for us, as people are not satisfied at all with the old system. Nobody has any salary from developing, it's all voluntary.

At one point I decided to rewrite one of the parts of the system that was used before. My point was, this part of the old system was not integrated with the new one, and I can re-write it to remove everything that is not required and to implement only these features that we really need and will use. I also know how the people would use the system, as I worked with it in almost all ways the people would use it.

I've got some feedback from the people who will use it and started implementing it. However I made a big mistake and did not ask for any feedback from the developer and the maintainer of the old system (it is one person) about that. In fact I didn't even let him know that I'm working on rewriting it. That was a result of miscommunication, as I didn't know what he was working on, and vice versa.

After I've implemented most of it, the headquarters of our NGO approached us and asked if we have something working so we can use the new system (specifically, the part I've rewritten). I said yes, because I thought it was mature enough.

Then we announced to all members that we will use the new system. And then this old maintainer answered our letter, asking to clarify if we are using his system or some new one.

I realized at this moment that not communicating with him before was a big mistake and decided to write him a personal letter to apologize and ask him to join the new development, if he wants to. As a response, I got the email full of personal insults, where he claims that I'm not capable of collaboration, that I should've gathered feedback from anyone, that rewriting the system is not as easy as it seems and that I'm not smart enough to do it, and that he'll stop working on it.

Now he is hostile to our team of developers because of what I did and he answers in the passive-aggressive way to everybody, blaming us.

Moreover, now some people are asking us to resolve this relationship problem, as he does a lot for us and in one of letters to us he told that our project management is a failure and he won't do anything for us anymore. And I cannot do it, because if I'll mail him, I'll get a lot of personal insults as a response again.

To clarify: the part of the system I'm working on isn't bad and it's not like I don't have enough knowledge to build it. It's working quite stable and these issues that users of the system have are resolved quite fast (I'm doing everything I can to make it as smooth as possible).

I'm not sure if I cannot do anything about. What can I do in this situation? I've apologized already, but that didn't work.

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    It should be noted that management should not have announced the adoption of a new system without some user acceptance testing. This is important to note down for future migrations
    – rath
    Dec 4, 2018 at 10:12
  • @rath valid point. Our problem was, since it is all voluntary, there were little to no people who wanted to test it and give their feedback. Given that, we decided to rely only on our internal testing and kinda enforce using it. I'm still not sure if if was the right decision and how it could be done in other way. Dec 4, 2018 at 10:26
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    I don't have such a possibility, as we are living in different cities and meeting in real life is not an option for me. Dec 4, 2018 at 12:01
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    By phone, no, as it would cost too much. Probably on Skype, that can be an option. Though I'm not sure if he would want to talk to me in person. Dec 4, 2018 at 12:10
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    based on your second to last paragraph, I'm not sure why you still need the other developer. You're saying that the new system is operational and bugs are addressed quickly. It may hurt to have burnt a bridge, but what are you hoping to get out of mending the relationship?
    – dwizum
    Dec 4, 2018 at 14:09

3 Answers 3


For every job, the right person should do the job.

You messed up the relationship with this volunteer software developer. Someone has to fix it. I would say that you are not the right person for this job. What is your job is to find the right person who may be completely useless at developing software but good at talking to people, explain the situation, and let them try to fix it.

It is of course possible that nobody can fix the situation.

  • That is totally reasonable. I've asked other people who are working with me to think in what way can be resolved and take care of it. I've also asked to be excluded from the decision making as 1) I'm directly involved and I think it should be done by someone who is not and 2) I can be biased. Other that that, can I do something to help resolving it? Dec 4, 2018 at 9:25

It sounds like this was as much a management and procedure problem as anything you did, and it's entirely to your credit that you're owning it as your mistake.

Your colleague feels sidelined. You're a convenient point to focus that, but he will also be wondering why no one else suggested involving him. There's not much you can do about that, and though he's railing against you personally it's not as personal as it looks - and deep down he knows that. He's hoping your system will fall over, but that's more to make a point to everyone else than wanting to see you fail.

I would explain to my manager what has happened, and ask what they would suggest as a resolution and how it could be avoided in future. Don't phrase it as a complaint against the other developer (from your question I'm guessing you wouldn't do that), but as an enquiry about what went wrong with the procedure.

Your manager allocated work without letting you know it would tread on someone's toes (perhaps they didn't know that either). His manager didn't advise him that work was being done on his project (perhaps they didn't know).

Management, and the people responsible for the company procedures, should own this mistake too.


Don't do anything.
Management decided to use your version, it's their and HR's responsibility to deal with the fallout and disharmony caused by this decision.
Let him cool down while you focus on fixing any bugs you get feedback on.

If his future behaviour negatively impacts your or your teams actual (paid) work and / or if he keeps harassing you with personal attacks, involve your and his superior as well as HR.

He reacted very unprofessionally, like a petulant child.

Regardless of what you may have done wrong, that kind of behaviour warrants him being reprimanded at best, his contract being terminated at worst.

Now, it is understandable that he spent a lot of his free time writing the software without payment that is now being replaced but his reaction is inexcusable.

The following thoughts are for the lawyers:

  • Did the software he developed become company property or is it his IP?

  • Would he have legal course of action to stop your version being used if it is including partially his (other) code?

  • Were there any contracts regarding this and did he write the programm on company or private time and property?

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