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I am working for an IT Organization which provides outsourcing services. We have placed at client location. Our organization is one of the vendor to the client along with other vendors. The contract with my earlier project is over, and I don't have any projects to work on currently, so my management placed into a month-long, short term project at client location as an additional resource to the team. The management strategy behind this is to either

  1. give me some work to do until they find a long term project for me
  2. let me do well on this project, impress the client, and continue to work in a more permanent capacity.

It is very important for me to learn as much as I can and get client approval for long-term placement.

The team has only one person who has to work closely with different other teams and who has been working in that role from the past 6 months. I am a second person in that team. And he is also a vendor from my organization. Hence my management added a responsibility to him to monitor and bringing me up to the speed but not at the cost of project deliverables and project schedule. Hence it is low priority responsibility compared to Other. Now I am not getting enough help and guidance from him to learn the project and ramp up.

The problem is that I am not getting enough help and guidance from him to learn the project and ramp up.

Below are my experiences with him so far:

  • He avoids discussions with me and hardly spends time to interact with me. If a situation occurs to convey something he just conveys what ever he wants and goes back to sidestepping all my questions and concerns.
  • When I have an issue he could help me with, he'd rather fix it for me himself so I can get back to work than teach me how to fix it. He doesn't explain what caused it or how he fixed it.
  • When I have an issue he doesn't know how to solve, he leaves it to me to fix and has no interest in discussing it at all.
  • When I find a solution for an issue and bring it to his attention for review, he hardly spends 5 minutes to give his comments/opinions, and refuse to discuss the issue further.
  • He also refuses to give me tasks and asks me to pick up tasks from the list of available open tasks.
  • He also refuses to involve me in the discussions with other teams who are working on the same project. I never attended any meeting along with him. I don't know the other teams and contact person who are involved in this project. And others also doesn't know me.

One day I have discussed with him my difficulties learning, and requested his help. His answer was

I don't have enough time to spend with you. Anyway you will leave the team after one month. I am not seeing any benefit for the team and me by spending time to bring up speed. You do your own self study and learn the things.

These issues are making it difficult for me to learn from him. Apart from the basic technical knowledge which I can learn from books and the internet, and basic application knowledge (which I can learn from manuals), I have to learn specific areas from him. He holds valuable knowledge about the application and project (for example information about specific tools and their usage in the project, debugging mechanism about various layers, history behind critical issues in the project) which is very important to learn. The client essentially sees us as team and expects that we hold that maturity and knowledge with us. It is not desirable to do all the research and reinvent the wheel again from the perspective of the client.

And another day I have discussed my difficulties with his mentor who also from our organization and works for the same client. This guy is not manager, but responsible from deliverables from our organization. He is not the one who places into the team. After listening my entire story he says that "As per my experience with him and from your story I feel that he has fear of being replaced. I can not intervene in this situation as I am not the one who placed you into his team as long as he is delivering the work with expected quality and with in time lines. You have to find your own ways to learn from him."

How can I learn from this senior team member who has fear of being replaced?

  • 1
    One thing you can learn from him is independance. On a side note, when he does fix things for you have you tried asking "What was broken? How did you fix it?" – Rhys Jul 16 '13 at 15:21
  • This is a related question – enderland Jul 16 '13 at 15:35
  • 2
    How big is the team (how many people beside you and the lead)? Is it this lead's responsibility to mentor you (is it part of his formal job or did you agree to this with him)? – Thomas Owens Jul 16 '13 at 16:12
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    Is he actually supposed to be mentoring you, or is he just the lead of the project you were put on? They're two very different things; if he doesn't think his job includes making you a better employee, that could be your problem. – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '13 at 19:30
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    @MonicaCellio good point! What makes this guy a "mentor"? Was he assigned to be one, or are you (talking to the OP now) just making assumptions that he is supposed to act in this capacity? – acolyte Jul 16 '13 at 20:56
9

If he knows he can directly debug into my machine, fix and unblock and ask me to go ahead. He didn't explain or discuss what is the root cause for the problem and what makes it fix.

You can change how this works. Asking, "this is broken, help me" vs "this line appears to not work correctly, I think it is doing this, do you know if it is causing x to happen?"

I get a loot of requests for help nowadays from younger people. When people do not structure questions well it's 100 times easier to just give the answer than try to explain the why, or say, "I don't know." But, if someone shows effort for the "I've thought about this" part I almost always explain the why too. (note: this stack exchange violates this for some reason, generally)

I do not think I'm unique in really being annoyed when people ask questions without having a decently cohesive, "here's what I tried and what I think is happening."

If you ask questions in a specific way, you also prevent him just "solving" your problem.

The lead also might be really busy, keep this in mind.

He strictly maintains Office timings. He comes 8am and leaves 5pm. And he doesn't want to discuss anything about work during lunch or snacks time.

Some people are like this.

He doesn't involve chit chatting and any casual, jovial and funny talks or chats.

Some people are like this, too.

How can I learn from this person?

Some people are more willing to help than others. Try:

  • Making your questions not yes/no questions. Make them show you have tried to solve things yourself, have put forth effort, and have interest in the why.
  • If this doesn't work, talk with this person about your concerns
  • If this also doesn't work, perhaps ask if the person knows another employee who could be a mentor to you (or just actively seek this out).
  • 1
    Re:"He comes 8am and leaves 5pm;doesnt involve chit chatting and funny talks". I think it is worth pointing out that if someone chooses to put in strict 40 hour weeks and won't work overtime then this is the generally expected behavior. They put in a very solid 40 hours and go live a life outside of work. People who habitually work overtime also have a tendency to chitchat and do other time-wasting activities and may not even give 40 hours of work. This is compounded by being a contractor, where you are billing the customer hourly. The customer doesn't want to pay for you to sit and chitchat. – Dunk Jul 21 '14 at 22:07
  • This is spot on. If you're familiar with the community standards of Stack Overflow, use that to your advantage; great questions on SO are usually universally well received by team members regardless of experience or age. Showing effort bodes well across the board. – Qix Jan 14 '17 at 2:30
4

Some persons need time to open up!

If he is shy, I suggest you to use other communication channels to maintain some kind of work relationship with him, i. e. in this special case: email.

It has some advantages:

  • The advice he gives you is documented, and you don't have to do it yourself, or even remember everything.

  • More importantly, there is no need for you to feel you are 'invading his space', since he is alone in his known environment.

So ask him for advice via mail, ask for some basic approaches that enable you to fix the problem yourself. That should be sufficient for now. Maybe he will open up in future!

  • Properly answering an email is an even more onerous task than verbally communicating an answer. If the person hardly gives the time of day to the OP, how can he be expected to compose a meticulous email? – Angelo Aug 19 '13 at 14:49
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    Not necessarily, some people can express themsevles more freely that way. And since OP could not establish a work relationship with that particular person, it is worth a shot. It could also help to specialize in a certain niche, maybe he will be more helpful when he realizes that they can coexist. – mike Aug 19 '13 at 15:13
3

It sounds to me like your major problem is that you're not being flexible. So he enjoys his lunch times, and doesn't want to discuss work during these periods. Fine, that's the point of a lunch break. And if he keeps to strict schedule, what's the issue?

Your problem is not that he is not going out of his way to help you and mentor you. Why should he? You're the one that will need to change your perceptions in order to learn from him.

Next time there is something he knows how to do, don't just wait for him to explain it, but instead ask him about it. Mention that you've never seen that particular code form before, and ask about it, how to use it effectively, etc etc. You need to be the one to get up and put some effort into advancing your career.

I'm not sure why so many other answers talk about getting him to "open up", as if the way this manager is holds the problem. It doesn't. As I said, you're going to have to change either your perceptions or your expectations.

3

He does not have fear of being replaced.

He has been given the task of babysitting you for a month without any compensation to him or his team, and you are essentially a burden to him so he is giving you as little as he can get away with. Remember he is not being measured on teaching you, but on deliveries. Any time spent with you goes from his projects.

If you could change status to be on his projects for a longer period you could grow into a valuable asset, but for now, you essentially just have to live with it and learn as much as you can from the sources available to you.

3

...you do your own self study and learn the things.

While it can be overwhelming and even intimidating to come up to speed on a new project, this part of his response to you is absolutely correct.

I wouldn't expect that you could come up to speed entirely without assistance from the folks that already familiar with the project, but a couple of thoughts cross my mind.

  • Experiment and learn as much as you can on your own. This can go a long way. Of course, don't waste time foolishly trying to figure out something when you're totally in the dark, if a two-minute question/answer would do.

  • As mentioned already, try to formulate your questions differently so that instead of simple asking for help, you're asking specific questions.

I fully agree with approaching questions with "here's what I tried and what I think is happening." Not only does this show that you're putting in an adequate amount of your own effort, and can only improve your chance of getting a decent answer, but it also forces you to think through the problem thoughtfully, while considering each step.

Many times after getting stuck on a problem, I have sat down to write a StackOverflow question, and during the process of writing a comprehensive question, I see a new piece of information that helps me understand the problem/solution and end up never posting the question.

One other thing, perhaps this team lead isn't the only resource that is capable and willing to help answer some of your questions. Whenever possible, after you've formulated a good question, consider whether there's someone else who might have the knowledge to assist you.

Lastly, is there any way you can have a conversation with management about your potential future? If you're only there a month, and there's nothing you can do about it, then don't expect too much one-on-one training. If, on the other hand, there's clear opportunity for you (and everyone knows it), then your display of self-motivation and initiative combined with asking well-thought-out questions will present you as someone they might like to have on the team in a more permanent role, thus having more motivation to provide better assistance and teaching.

2

First, identify what you need to learn and what you want to learn. These might or might not be the same thing. For example, you might need to learn some basics about doing your job, such as how to check in code or participate in a code review, but you want to learn more about the technology that you're developing for.

If you're not getting what you need to learn out of him, then you need to determine ways to get this needed information. This might be as simple as being very direct with him in the questions that you ask him. It might involve doing more research so that you can give him other questions.

If you're getting what you need to learn out of him, but not what you want to learn, then you need to determine how you can can get what you want to learn. Is he the only person from whom you can learn this? Are there others around who can help you, or other resources that you can leverage to learn it? You can try to ask him broader questions, such as recommendations for material to read for someone who doesn't have his expertise.

You can also observe his interactions with others to try to identify people with whom he has more open communication. You can try out their styles of interaction to see if they are also more successful with you, or you can go to them and ask them if they can give you some pointers on how to be more successful in your communications with him. If you choose to ask someone about it, make sure that you don't make any statements about him (don't call him an introvert, don't say that he isn't open), but rather make it about you: say that you don't feel like you have been successful in communicating with him and are hoping that they might be able to give you some guidance. You might learn that he is more open in his communications at a given time of day, or that he prefers email or IM to in-person contact, or that he never responds to long emails but short ones are fine, or that he feels like his time is wasted if someone asks him a question that they could have answered if they had done some basic research. These are just a handful of ideas that could apply; you'll have to work to determine whether it is any of these or something else entirely.

There are people who maintain a strict line between their professional and personal lives. If he is one of those people, then I would observe that line. It's valid to draw that line, even if it's not the one that you have selected. You can still be cordial with him. You might be able to get him to talk about company history, or the history of this application, or about the general technology that you're working on. Or you might not, in which case you simply be cordial with him and keep your conversations to the point and focused on your work.

2

You and this person are stuck in limbo. They have a list of priorities and the support you need is very low on the list. You want them to help you. Personally you want this help to make sure you can get a permanent position.

This persons manager may also have said that they want you to get a permanent position, and that this support is vital to making the transition. They want to fill this slot so that the company makes more money. They might even view you as a great candidate who needs a little guidance.

Unfortunately for you management has either not told this person that the support you need it important, or they have failed to re-prioritized the team lead's tasks. If they have re-prioritized the tasks, the team lead might be ignoring the managers directive to support you.

We have no idea if that person would be a good mentor, but based on all your edit and comments it is clear that helping you is not important to them. You are just another burdensome task that they feel they can ignore.

There are only two paths:

  • Push for the support you need: that might not get you anywhere and can even seal your fate. Management and the team lead might see you as a lost cause, or a troublemaker.
  • Do everything in your power to become as knowledgeable about the task before the time period is up. For example when you are looking for a task to start "He also refuses to give me tasks and asks me to pick up tasks from the list of available open tasks"; he is saying pick something that you think you can handle. So pick one and get started.
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If he is an introvert, then perhaps he would do better communicating in written form such as e-mail or IM than face to face chatting. You may be expecting more hand holding than you are getting but there are alternative solutions that may be worth considering here.

There are a couple of different ideas I'd suggest to you:

  1. Shadowing - This is literally watching over his shoulder what he does where if you see something enough times you may remember what screens were opened or have an idea of what to research further. Is he looking in the Event Viewer? Is he checking logs?

  2. Detective work when he does things to your machine. Do you know what tools you could use to see what he has done? Do you know how much hand holding you are supposed to get?

1

Even if he doesn't want to discuss work during breaks, meet with him anyway and talk about something. You may not like what he decides to talk about or you may have to work really hard to get him to talk, but I don't know what other choice you have. Even the most introverted programmers I've met will talk about code. You may find out he is under a lot of stress to get his current project finished and really doesn't have the energy to help you. When he does talk, make sure you listen.

If your supervisor is expecting you to learn a lot from this person, you need to inform him. No one wants to get anyone in trouble, but when your job is dependent on someone who doesn't do their part, you have to take action.

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