35

The setup...
A little more than a year ago, we started a search for a "rock star" developer. We had lost our legitimately brilliant lead developer to a start up. I was able to step in and fill his shoes, but we needed a really strong person to come in and backfill for me.

We searched for a few months but couldn't find anyone. Finally, our department director "found" a guy. They were clearly friends before. The candidate (we'll call him Roger) was interviewed. Roger had no experience in C# but had done some programming in some strange system somewhere. He failed the technical interview pretty spectacularly. None of us developers thought he was able to do the job. Despite the protests from the rest of the team, Roger was hired.

The problem
In the time since Roger has been hired, he has picked up C# and web development. He has the skills of an intern or other very entry level person. There's no doubt he's not the rock star we need. Even Roger acknowledges that he's in over his head. He really wants to be better and in time, he might be able to step it up.

The problem is that he thinks that because he's been out of college for 10 years or because he's been friends with the director he has some say or sway over us. I point out to him the things he's doing wrong or that he should be doing differently. He then takes a really condescending tone and gets sort of bitchy.

The rest of the team has talked to the director and expressed our problems. We're answered with "he really wants to learn" or "I need you to help him" or "he has skills that we need". I don't care if he really wants to learn. I want to be a fighter jet pilot. Too bad for me. I don't want to help him when he rejects my help and gets bitchy. What skills are you referring to? The skill of working a solid 4 hours a day and pissing people off?

In short, he has become my problem and I'm not going to get any help from management.

What I need
Since it's obvious that Roger isn't going anywhere, how can I get over myself and deal with him? I'm not trying to simply vent as the rest of the team here is sympathetic with me and has the same view. I really need some strategies I can use to co-exist with this guy.

  • possible duplicate of How can I deal with a difficult coworker? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 17 '14 at 19:49
  • 2
    @BrianWarshaw - How to deal colleague I resent for being hired in above me despite my being a better? would be a better title... but it is still the same how do i deal with someone i dislike – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 17 '14 at 20:32
  • 3
    @Chad But I think they're actually quite different, and require a different tactic. The one you linked to is about instantly firable, rude behavior. This one is more about incompetence and denial. Just saying :-) – Brian Warshaw Jan 17 '14 at 20:35
  • 4
    You have my sympathy. My workplace replaced an electronics engineer with a chef. – geometrikal Jan 18 '14 at 23:39
  • 1
    @Chad — It seems that the difficult coworker here is Mark. – Nicolas Barbulesco May 3 '14 at 22:55
36

If your director won't do anything, and there's nobody else to appeal to, here are the steps I would recommend:

1) If your team agrees, make it a point not to work extra time (or put in an inappropriate amount of extra effort) to make up for his deficiencies. Money talks loud, and if your director and his superiors see things slipping and ask you about it, you can humbly explain that you attempted to warn them about this man's abilities, and that quality is suffering because of his shortcomings.

2) If money doesn't talk (it's actually possible), start looking for another job. I hate to give that advice so early and so readily, but if you have management that is willing to pile on people that are doing the job and let somebody else get a free ride, the company is doomed to fail, now or later, and things aren't likely to get better for you.

  • 17
    Amen! I went through this years ago when the CFO hired his former college roommate to be the IT lead. He was a complete hack. I kept plugging away for 18 months, hoping the CEO would figure it out. He didn't. I left. Life has been much better since. – Wesley Long Jan 17 '14 at 20:05
  • I hear you. It's hard to let things slip and fail. I keep hoping the management team will notice but thus far they haven't. I think Roger must be blackmailing the director or something. There's definitely something strange going on. – markdotnet Jan 17 '14 at 20:06
  • 1
    His manager said "I need you to help him" this is really bad advice – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 17 '14 at 20:37
  • 8
    I said "make it a point not to work extra time" and not to put in an inappropriate amount of extra effort. That's not an automatic call for disobeying his superior. – Brian Warshaw Jan 17 '14 at 20:38
  • 2
    @reallytiredofthisgame he means not making overtime to compensate for the extra effort on educating the failing coworker. If projects finish on time due to everyone making overtime, management will conclude there is no problem and nothing will happen. Confronting (respectfully and matter of fact) management with the result of their choice will have a larger chance to change the situation than to keep slogging on. – Paul Hiemstra Jun 21 '15 at 14:51
13

When your director answers with "he really wants to learn" or "I need you to help him", you need to say OK - we can do that, it would take about X amount of hours per week for Y years, and cause our project to be delayed by Z. If the director is happy with that, carry on - try not to vent your frustration on the Roger, and treat him like an intern (if that is his skill level and he needs a large amount of training) - note that this does NOT mean to treat him badly in any way.

"I point out to him the things he's doing wrong or that he should be doing differently. He then takes a really condescending tone and gets sort of bitchy." - instead of pointing things out, offer to show alternatives - or if you aren't the mentoring type, find someone else to do it - in either case, if he truly is "bitchy" about it, that conflicts with what the director says about him "really wanting to learn", and you may need to have a discussion with him and the director about that as a separate issue.

8

When a manager is technically incompetent, you can do one of 3 things.

1) Help Roger become competent - Mentor him, assign in dev task, and hope he will step up to the plate and improve. This will eat into at least 1 developers time significantly.

2) Elect a Vice-Project Manager - Have a competent developer step up to a managerial role, and let Roger focus 100% on keeping the project funded and the upper managers happy. This may have been why he was hired. See how effective he is at going to bat for the team when there is slippage or unimplemented features. Don't discount him because he's not a technical whiz-kid.

3) Find a new job - If you believe that Roger is truly incompetent, and that it will cause you to work nights and weekends, perhaps its time to switch companies. If you continue to 2nd guessing everything he does, you'll end up burned out and angry at him.

  • +1 for Number 2. rearrange the Project around the workforce that you have! – jwsc May 5 '15 at 16:22
4

OK, you could try a more roundabout method.

Institute code review as a quality initiative. Require all code to be reviewed before going to production. Document what is wrong with his code and what is expected to be done to pass code review and go to prod. Do this for everyone not just him. Your overall code will be better, many bugs will be found and fixed before they are found by the users and incidentally you will have the documentation you need to show that he is failing. Because he will have to respond the concerns of others, he will have no choice but to improve or go. But this doesn't single him out. If his code can't pass code review and the deadline is delayed as a result, all the better. You have to make sure the organization feels some pain for choosing to hire someone who cannot do the work.

In the meantime, make it more difficult for him (but no impossible) to get help. Make him schedule his help sessions with you and make sure your priorities are not delayed to meet his. If he wants to talk about how to do something and you are busy, then tell him you can't get to it until the next day. Do not stay late to help him or stay late to finish your work because you spent too much time helping him. Tell your boss when something of yours will be delayed because you had to spend the time helping him. This is not specifically complaining about him, this is notifying of a delay which you should be doing.

In terms of scheduling your time on projects, make sure to put X hours of help for junior people into every estimate to make sure that you have the time to help him. Once they start realizing that every project will take 30% more time due to training someone, they will start to realize the impact. Again, don't specify by name, just add that as a line item into the estimate for every project. Let your boss understnd that this training take time and that you will only be available 25-30 hours per week for their projects due to this need to perform training.

If he gets nasty during a help session, simply end it. Since he doesn't need your help, he doesn't need your time. If what he says is especially bad, ask him to leave your office or cubicle and not come back until he can behave professionally. Document what he said immediately.

It cuts across the grain for those of use who are invested in our jobs to let someone fail when we could fix it, but you are actually doing your company, yourself and even this guy a favor when you do. The sooner his damage is noticed, the sooner he is gone and the less harm he creates in your code base. The sooner he is gone the less likely others who are good devs will leave to avoid having to deal with him. The sooner he is gone, the sooner he will realize that he needs to learn more to do this just and not just rely on old friends.

  • 1
    +1 for the code review. This is something that should always be done no matter the skills of the developer. – JazzmanJim Jun 15 '18 at 13:49
0

It is very common for new employees to have a period of time before they work on production code. It doesn't matter how much experience he has, he is starting from square one with the current technology. The problems should be addressed with "Roger" and he can either clean up his code or it doesn't get checked-in or released into production.

If you are responsible for training this person, he can't keep fighting you or none of his work sees the light of day. Change his security access if you have to. Work with him and let him review your code as well. Maybe he'll learn something.

Projects will fall behind, and management will want you to do the work for him (bad idea at this time) or put his work into production (really bad idea). Clients shouldn't have to suffer this fool. Keep pushing the issue that you are still training him. Who knows, it could take years. Don't bother complaining about him or his progress because they want him there for some reason other than competency.

Hopefully he can come around, but you need to make sure he can't do any harm. In the long run, you're better off doing all the work instead of cleaning up his messes. It is very difficult to determine what level of pain the company (or their users/clients) has to suffer before management fixes this problem by getting rid of him.

0

From my reading of this, Roger has learned some C# and web development, and even acknowledges that he's in over his head. It sounds to me like he's headed in the right direction and just isn't there yet.

Since the director feels that Roger really wants to learn, has necessary skills, and needs your help, I'd say your task is very clear. You need to find a way to help Roger because that's what the boss wants.

You might want to ask the director if he has any specific things he'd like you to work on with Roger (teach him this first, then that, etc.), giving you a more clear sense of direction to go in.

This might mean that you need to get to know Roger better and find out what, specifically, he needs help with and how he likes to learn. It might also mean that you need to try different approaches to see which he responds to favorably.

I definitely would not recommend pointing out to Roger the things he's doing wrong. It's a common reaction for us to become defensive or offended, regardless of how well-intentioned the advice may have been.

A gentler approach would be to set good examples, let Roger see you fall over and pick yourself back up again when things go wrong for you, and remember to praise Roger when he does a good job or masters something new. That sort of approach has worked wonders for us Mommies for centuries and can do just as nicely in a work environment.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!

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.