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I am the sole developer on a 6 year old project involving multiple platforms. I have taken over maintaining this project and adding new features. In attempting to accomplish certain tasks, such as integrating a new data source, I find myself stuck in a complex (failing) build process, which results in a lot of error messages, missing files, and generally processes that I can't understand just by reading the code. There is very little documentation to how these processes are supposed to work, and there is very little documentation in the code itself.

All that said, I often have to email the previous developer who worked on the project to ask them questions about why X is failing to Y, or where is Z and what is it supposed to be doing? The problem is, this person has a full-time job and other responsibilities and is working as a part-time 'technical advisor'. They often takes 4-7 days to respond to emails (that I send approximately once every 3 weeks).

However, I must have deliverables every week - since I get stuck and can't proceed without the input of the previous developer, I sit around essentially accomplishing nothing. I also can't just walk over to this person's desk and ask directly because they don't live anywhere near me.

In the past, my boss has directly elevated the issue, but it usually takes him 3-5 days to do so, which isn't fast enough to solve the issue.

What are some methods of soliciting a faster response time from remote coworkers? This could be via email, Skype, etc. - are there methods that people generally respond to more quickly?

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Your company/manager either just accepts that things will take longer or they need to provide the incentive to this part-time consultant.

People working another full-time job are not available and often don't have the energy to put in the extra time you need. Somehow they need to be incentivized and I doubt you have the resources or authority to provide it.

To be honest, I'm having a hard time believing that if you spend the 3-5 days actually reviewing the code instead of waiting for an answer, you couldn't be able to do more of this yourself. Repeat this enough times and you should be able to absorb quite a bit. Not surprised your manage hasn't caught on to this.

  • Well I'm a novice developer not even out of college yet, and I should mention that I work about 10-15 hours per week (on average 2 hours per day) for this second job, so these aren't full 8-hour days I'm wasting. – Chris Cirefice Jan 22 '16 at 2:26
  • @ChrisCirefice - You would elaborate on, "can't proceed without the input of the previous developer, I sit around essentially accomplishing nothing." It sounds like you keep working on it, but just aren't getting anywhere due to no fault of your own. – user8365 Jan 29 '16 at 18:31
  • Jeff, that is exactly it - I try to run through the build pipeline and figure things out, but at some point there are just too many files in too many places being built in fragments to figure out what the hell is going on. fortunately I talked to my boss and I was able to Skype him and the other developer to get a one-hour run-down of what-does-what. In the end, I was able to solve the problem, I just needed to tell my boss how detrimental it was to talk to the other developer. – Chris Cirefice Jan 29 '16 at 18:57
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There is a colloquialism for what you're doing: It's called "Rearranging the chairs on the Titanic."

You need to focus your efforts on getting your build processes working reliably, and automatically, before you do ANY feature development. If your boss doesn't understand that, your whole organization is in serious trouble.

There is a reason why this is #2 on The Joel Test. If you can't build with a single step, and then deploy to your different environments (Dev, Test, Stage, Beta, Live) with another single step, you're going to be chasing this problem the rest of your time there.

Getting the consultant to answer is going to be less and less effective, as the longer he works on something else, the less he'll remember about this project. The "Technical Adviser" role is probably just to give you time to get things under control for yourself. Get things under control for yourself ASAP.

  • I would love to, but there's a lot of technical debt here. I have suggested completely reworking the existing system to something more sustainable - however, I have to get this new feature released before that. Incidentally, it's the complicated multi-step build process that's causing all the problems :) I'll get there eventually; I'm just looking for a better method of communicating with remote co-workers in order to solve the problem faster. – Chris Cirefice Jan 22 '16 at 2:28
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There is very little you can do. This is your managers or bosses problem to solve, not yours. So you need to let them know, and you need to keep pushing. I have been in the previous developers shoes.

Unless someone was throwing bundles of money at me I wouldn't bother answering. It's up to your manager to motivate the previous developer.

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