I have a colleague that likes to pass on knowledge he has learned from others as his own hard-earned experience, this is seldom a problem as most know who taught him and can ask the source directly. We work in a specialized mechanical setting, it has a special jargon.

This gets problematic however when he claims to be good at programming. In our office there are few who have anything but the most basic programming experience and many have none at all. At break the other day we started discussing a program he had written, as I had done something similar a few months earlier I was curious to see how he had done it. (I enjoy to program but I am not skilled at it).

Seeing as he claimed to be a skilled programmer I wanted to see if I could learn anything. I was rather surprised when his solution had a cycle time of 5 minutes where my solution took 10-20 seconds. Asking a few more questions it became clear that he only had limited knowledge of the language.

The other problem is that he keeps changing his story when he talks about his previous employment, one day he wrote something in C++, the other day it's Java and so on. Same story, different implementations. When prodded he changes back to his original story.

We work in a mechanical setting, programming is not out main line of work. The colleague is implementing a mechatronic system in a low level setting, structured text or ladder (PLC). We have safety means implemented to ensure that nothing goes boom, but it is making me uneasy that his skillset in a high-level language are so poor.

Unfortunately, my own experience of low-level programming is insufficient to judge his solution, and there is no one else readibly either.


  • How should I approach my superiors with my suspicions?
  • Should I even approach them given that my claims are rather loose?
  • Should I discuss it with him and... what? Claim that he is not skilled enough? I can see no way that will turn out good even if my claims are true.
  • @JoeStrazzere Yep, just do your job, and do it well. – Mister Positive Apr 27 '17 at 12:23
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    strongly related: Why is it important to gain “visibility” in the workplace? – gnat Apr 27 '17 at 12:50
  • Why does skill level matter if he's getting the job done? Asking this question may help you decide whether you are making a big deal of nothing or it might help you identify more specific issues, so you have something concrete to address. If you do decide to approach them, ask them for help fixing it. They might be able to help you understand why it's not a problem. Then again, you might help them understand why it is important and teach them to be a better programmer in the process. – Lazor Apr 27 '17 at 19:38

If there is a risk to the company/project/asset/personnel:

  • Go to supervisor and let them know there may be issues with the code and it should be double checked, but not mention the person directly. Focus on just the risk and the code that may be a risk and how that will impact the company/project/asset/personnel. Avoid mentioning the persons name directly, it will become obvious through investigation, but you don't want to appear accusatory towards and individual, but instead interested in safety and quality. If asked, you can mention that you don't believe yourself or the other person to be strong enough coders and wanted to be sure that someone more skilled double checked.

If there is NO risk to the company/project/asset/personnel:

  • Ignore it and log away that you probably won't get solid information from this person, so double-check facts and learn from others.
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    +1 Unless his lack of knowledge is causing a problem for the company, don't worry about it. This sort of person usually gets "found out" quickly. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to move into management ;^) – mhwombat Apr 27 '17 at 11:50
  • If this person does lack knowledge, be prepared for them to be defensive, because they may feel threatened when it is pointed out. That's why you will want to find out if they think the improvements are helpful and if they are open to new ideas. Ie. "I could show you how to make your code 1500% faster. Would that be helpful?" – Lazor Apr 27 '17 at 19:43

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