Background: I was hired along with 6 other people to help clean up internal webpages. A couple of months later, the manger and the people above him decided that when we're done with the internal cleanup, they will pay and train us to learn Python. In one meeting, the manager tried to introduce us to Python to give us an idea of what it's like. I have a background of working with Python (I'm self-taught, and build and maintain Python projects on my Github). Rather than announce that I already know Python, I stayed humble and kept my month shut, because I might learn something I didn't know.

During the managers tutorial, he ran into some trouble with the IDE and code he was demonstrating. He told everyone to come back in a few minutes, while he worked on fixing the code. I offered to help him and in less than 5 minutes he was up and running. When the meeting resumed, he gave me a thanks in front of everyone, and moved forward.

During the training, we're given exercises to complete with a review process afterward.


I don't know if it was the "thanks" I received or if the manager told the team without letting me know, but they keep coming to me to help them debug their code. At first I didn't mind, I showed them what was wrong, how to fix it, and how to use the IDE to help them debug. The problem is, they don't care to do it themselves. The issues aren't all that difficult to understand (wrong variable names, calling functions that don't exist, or with the wrong number of arguments).

I'm getting work from the manager, plus the training we have to go through (I asked, and the manager stated I have to go through the training, regardless of what I know), it's too much.

How do I politely explain that I'm not the team's debugger/problem fixer? There is a review process afterward, and to learn from that?

  • 3
    Do you have aspirations to become a lead on the dev team? Feb 14, 2019 at 2:10
  • 3
    7 people to clean up internal webpages? Seems excessive.
    – Kilisi
    Feb 14, 2019 at 3:00
  • Has your team advanced as far as unit testing yet? Feb 14, 2019 at 10:02
  • 1
    @Kilisi - It's a lot more than that, but in very basic terms, it's just cleaning up internal pages(HTML), the team members are not programmers, so we learn on the job.
    – user98284
    Feb 14, 2019 at 15:55
  • @Mawg - So far we're learning Python, and doing code reviews with senior members, so no, not yet.
    – user98284
    Feb 14, 2019 at 15:56

6 Answers 6


You should have a discussion with your manager about your role. They may understand that debugging other employees' code is part of your job description. Let the manager know the trade-offs you face while working in the company. For example, you might say "when helping someone to debug their code, I don't have time to work on X, delaying outcome Z."

If debugging other's code doesn't affect your outcomes for the company directly, but you simply just don't enjoy debugging other people's code and don't think it is part of your job, that is also something to discuss. Find your formal job description and have a discussion with your manager about it. Discuss what needs to change in the job description and if raises/promotions may be warranted if the job description has been changed.

If the manager agrees its not your responsibility to debug code for others, then polite pointing to documentation, e.g. "what did the documentation say about this?" is a good way to respond that forces others to do a lot of research before they ask you to help them debug.

  • 5
    Debugging other people's code usually comes with seniority and, therefore, a larger paycheck. Feb 14, 2019 at 3:27
  • @SimonRichter exactly, that's why it's so important to talk that the OP talk to their manager about their role, raises and promotions Feb 14, 2019 at 6:06
  • What’s the betting the manager is avoiding the extra money route....
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 14, 2019 at 6:08
  • @SolarMike That's why the meeting needs to be cast in terms of "Let's agree upon what my ideal role is". First, figure out what you want, what you would be willing to compromise on, and for what paycheck. Then in the meeting try to come to a consensus that works for both you and the company. Feb 14, 2019 at 6:15
  • @WetlabStudent, yes, I wanted to highlight that the mentoring aspect is so central to professional software development that there is a word for the role that HR understands. Feb 14, 2019 at 6:22

Make sure in every instance it takes them longer to ask you than to do it themselves. Don't just fix their code, inflict a long-winded lecture on them in the process, demonstrate how to use the tools, inflict long philosophical discussions on development etc. Painstakingly find and show them the relevant documentation for every statement they get wrong, and then read it aloud to them, in a droning monotone. Aim to waste at least half an hour of their time per (simple) question.

Not answering would just get you labeled as a nasty, unhelpful person. But making it painful will have the opposite effect, while ensuring that they start thinking twice about whether it's worth the pain.

  • 2
    I personally wouldn't make a point to waste their time because that's wasting your time.
    – Sam Orozco
    Feb 14, 2019 at 7:17
  • 2
    @SamOrozco but that's the whole point: solving their coding is reducing the time the OP can spend on his legitimate work... They are already "wasting his time" as you say...
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 14, 2019 at 7:24
  • @SolarMike Yeah, I guess that's true. I personally would just say "Ok, so you think you can handle this next time?"
    – Sam Orozco
    Feb 14, 2019 at 7:26
  • -1 I don't think that's a productive approach.
    – Wilbert
    Feb 14, 2019 at 7:34
  • 1
    I agree, start getting socratic on their arse. "What do you think that means?" "Is the word Missing important?" "Are you sure it is spelt correctly, i will be back in 5 mins to allow you to double check" Do not touch their computer.
    – WendyG
    Feb 14, 2019 at 17:42

I don't know if it was the "thanks" I received or if the manager told the team without letting me know, but they keep coming to me to help them debug their code.

It's important that your manager is aware of what's going on where your team members coming to you for help. Propose to your manager a plan that both satisfies the business need and your career ambitions.

For instance, Tech leads and senior engineers will need to mentor more junior team members. The fact that your team member respect you enough to ask your question is already a step in the right direction. You could tell your manager that you would like to carve out some of your time to bring your team members up to speed and productive on their own projects.

But if you'd prefer to focus more on the project your manager has given you stated that and make sure your manager communicate that the team members should reduce their dependence on you.

To me, I would do a combination of both. I would help my team members help themselves (i.e. teach them the tools to debug on their own and create a team slack channel, email list or similar where people can answer each's questions) and make sure I make a splash with your new project.


This is an excellent opportunity to become a team lead or get promoted. You show them that you can help train and lead a team and the rewards will almost certainly follow.

However, since this is not in line with your tentative career track, you can tell them that you are busy with a high priority task from the boss and ask them if they can post their question on StackOverflow. While simple questions are generally down voted and closed, they do tend to get answered fairly quickly. They will quickly stop coming to you since you don't help them (because you are busy) and they learn to use the wonderful resource that is the Internet.

  • That's right, let's downgrade a female developer into teaching, that'll show them. Nobody's ever gotten promoted doing invisible 'helping' work, don't believe this one @EmilyScott
    – user90842
    Feb 14, 2019 at 19:23
  • @GeorgeM Nobody said their teaching needed to be invisible and people who can teach and do are worth more than people that can only do. Feb 14, 2019 at 19:30
  • Only when they are men... A junior female developer who teaches will soon be teaching full-time
    – user90842
    Feb 14, 2019 at 19:32
  • @GeorgeM That may be your experience, but that is not mine. The people (men and women) that helped their teams understand technology were the ones that were promoted more than the others. Feb 14, 2019 at 19:35

As the subject matter expert in a domain that none of your coworkers know anything about, it might be hard for them to look up solutions online if they don't even know what they're looking for, and it might be hard for them to understand things on the internet if they have a base of literal zero. Therefore, they need to be ELI5'd a lot of this type of stuff, which is why they come to you. If you think the problem is reasonable, you should help them with it.

That said, it sounds like they're coming to you with a lot of very basic programming stuff that holds across all languages (e.g. variable names/function names which don't exist). In those cases, I would institute the "three strikes you're out" rule: Help them twice, and then the third time they ask you something silly like this, report it to your manager. They should be expected to check these sorts of very simple, very obvious things before coming to you for help, although conversely if the problem is nontrivial you should allow them to leverage your expertise. Be generous with what you consider "trivial", because they know basically nothing in the subject area.


If you don't want to spend time on that - just tell them to do it yourself. A polite "sorry, I'm busy" when you're busy or "sorry, I want to rest" when you're resting will do. Be straightforward - why shouldn't you? If you stop yielding to those request they will eventually stop asking you.

You also may want to ask coworkers if anybody told them to come to you for help. If management did, talk to the person who did that and explain that you need to concentrate on your own work and don't look forward to leading position. That's if you don't look forward to it, of course. Otherwise you can discuss the opposite: how you can lead and teach the rest of a team and what benefits you get for doing so.

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