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I'm a developer. One of my coworkers asks me a question the moment anything goes wrong, or he doesn't understand something, in either our code or even third party code we use.

He's a nice enough guy, and I'm always friendly and courteous and make time to answer questions. I don't think he realizes how annoyed it makes me that he doesn't RTFM and how much time he takes out of my day. I don't want to sour our working relationship, and he's been in computing a couple decades at this point so I doubt he'll change his habits. I get the feeling he knows he shouldn't be asking, because he doesn't ask the stupid questions on public channels.

Way I see it, there are three options:

  1. Passive: if he asks a question he can easily answer himself with 5-10 minutes of research (like how to clone a git repo), just don't answer and hope I get fewer of that type of question
  2. Active: go over a couple instances with him where he asked me questions that I'm certain he could have easily answered himself, and impress upon him that I can't constantly be answering those questions
  3. Serious: Talk to my manager about it.

Because I prefer to avoid confrontation with the people I work alongside, and frankly it's not my job to teach him to google, I've decided to start with (1), and if he doesn't get the message and I keep getting questions go to (3).

So my question... Are there any courses of action I haven't considered? Anything that the community would recommend?

More detailed explanation

I'm currently working in a role with a significant development component (SRE; hiring me was part of the transition from more traditional ops to an SRE model). One of my coworkers- who does have a CS background, but has only worked in sysadmin-type jobs afaict- is constantly deferring to me with questions about our codebase. Which is fine, insofar as I'm one of the few people on the team who's either read or written most of it.

What's less fine is that asking me is his immediate response when anything goes even mildly wrong, or when he doesn't understand something. Even if I send him the link for a wiki page I've written, he'll ignore the wiki page and force me to manually go over the steps or feed them to him one-at-a-time.

You could argue "maybe my wiki pages aren't particularly clear", which I suppose is possible (although I put a lot of effort into making them unambiguous, practical, comprehensive, concise, and grammatical), but he even defers to me immediately about really simple stuff with tools we didn't write (like git or sqlite).

For example, he knows SQL, and I gave him a tool that generates a SQLite database at one point. Along with the wiki page on the tool, which gives information on how to use the tools, as well as a little information on the SQLite database that it spits out. It was a really simple database. Like three tables. That's it. There weren't even foreign keys. And he didn't bother to run .help or look up documentation for SQLite. Didn't even bother to read the wiki page, that had the commands he'd need to run in it. I literally copy-pasted those commands for him.

marked as duplicate by gnat, paparazzo, Masked Man, Chris E, Mister Positive Feb 23 '17 at 13:36

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  • Sorry about how long this is. Tried not to make it a rant. It's just... so much of my time is taken by this guy outsourcing his research of basic things to me. – Parthian Shot Feb 22 '17 at 21:57
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    4. Passive-Aggressive: Respond to his questions with a link to the wiki page you already wrote. – jwodder Feb 22 '17 at 22:02
  • What happens when you just take him aside and gently but explicitly explain the situation (#2)? No one deliberately wants to be a "help vampire" and drag the team down, perhaps you can appeal to his sense of teamwork? Is there some way he can practice the unfamiliar skills in a workshop with other people who are new? – teego1967 Feb 22 '17 at 22:13
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    I'm pretty sure I have an answer somewhere to this question but my SE/google search is failing me. Maybe someone can find it better than I can.. – enderland Feb 22 '17 at 22:23
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    @Prodnegel that would do it, though I feel like I wrote an answer to this on a different question. But this is also very similar workplace.stackexchange.com/q/31112/2322 – enderland Feb 22 '17 at 22:57
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If you want a polite, yet firm approach, then you need to keep the ball in his court, using an ASK style.

For example: If he asks you how to do "XYZ" then you ask him, "based upon the research you did online or in our Wikis, what do you think is the best way to do XYZ?"

If he has not done any research, instruct him to do so.

If he has done research, and has a reasonable solution/method then give him the "OK" or a better solution.

If he has a bad or incorrect solution, tell him to do more research to find a good solution.

After doing this a few times then the next time he approaches you, you can say to him (with a smile on your face): "You know what I am going to ask you, right?"

Eventually, he'll figure out that he cannot get an answer from you without first doing research and coming up with at least a reasonable solution.

(You should also document how many times he keeps asking without doing proper research first. This may be needed for management if he really needs to be fired.)

  • This is just being toxic yourself. Don't fight fire with fire. – DepressedDaniel Feb 23 '17 at 0:28
  • @DepressedDaniel I disagree. I think the reason this is happening is because the guy knows that the OP will automatically help him. A subtle way to encourage the guy not to ask pointless questions is to gently reinforce the idea that if he does ask, he already knows what the response will be. – adelphus Feb 23 '17 at 0:37
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    This seems like a good solution. I hadn't really thought about the parallels, but this is a lot of what I did as a TA. Some students just cared about the grade, really didn't care about learning, and would try to get through entire courses (some, I think, would try to get through entire CS degrees :P ) by getting the TA to essentially write the code for them a line at a time. – Parthian Shot Feb 23 '17 at 1:10
  • @DepressedDaniel I apologize if my wording came across as if this was intended to be punitive. That is not the intent of this approach. The intent is to provide two things - (1) the expectation that juniors should research before approaching their seniors - and (2) a way for the junior to offer their opinions to their seniors without appearing disrespectful (people from more hierarchical backgrounds will wait to be asked for their opinions and will often ask a lot of questions themselves to signal "respect" to the senior - and this approach covers that case). – user45269 Feb 24 '17 at 18:51
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You have to talk to your manager about this because it sounds like it's seriously impacting your work performance. This guy isn't just asking for a bit of help understanding the tools, he's totally offloading onto you.

I should clarify that my conversation with my manager would be along the lines of "can I work less with person X?"

I don't think that's a fair request, but you could ask not to work in the same room/cubicle. If you are at least an e-mail and a 10-minute wait away, this guy will start making baby steps on his own.

  • No he won't - he'll just ask the next nearest person. – adelphus Feb 23 '17 at 0:40
  • @adelphus Well maybe but at least it's no longer OP's problem ;) – DepressedDaniel Feb 23 '17 at 1:18
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When he asks something that you've provided help for in the past, your first response should be something like this:

Information on how to do that is in the wiki I gave to you last week. Have you looked at that? What about it is not clear?

In other words, make him help you make your documentation clearer (if it needs that), and also make him do part of the work of helping himself.

Really, there is nothing wrong with option #2. The more you learn to set reasonable boundaries, the easier it becomes. And talking to him directly has the best chance of a good outcome. By getting more and more frustrated, by the time you do talk to him, you're more likely to not do it well. You need to be calm, straight-forward, not acting frustrated. It needs to feel like teamwork, helping each other out, and both improving.

I imagine, that since he's gotten used to using you as a crutch, it will take time and quite a few answers like the above before he starts trying to do it himself. But he will become a better worker because of it, and that too is a good goal.

If he simply refuses to learn, then eventually, you can respond more bluntly:

The information is still in the wiki I gave to you last month. We've gone through it several times, and you said it was clear. Go use it.

And then, turn back and do your own work.

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