I work in a software company. I am one of the senior-most developers with good knowledge of DevOps practices.

For example, not intended to show my pride, I was the one who twice convinced the boss to switch from CVS to SVN to Git.

Often I get interrupted by coworkers about technical problems they cannot solve. I understand that in a transitional phase some recurring problems may occur and it is a friendly idea to help other coworkers.

However this led to other developers being lazy and treating me like the help desk.

I often (this happens since years) get interrupted by people, or get mails, asking for the solution to a very specific technical problem for which the offender did not show any research. I mean he/she got struck in a Git error (to make an example) and instead of Googling he/she directly reported to me, CCing senior staff members who likely do not know the answer.

Sometimes, in order to encourage Googling and Stackoverflowing, I called those people to my desk, opened my browser and started a search with them. I wanted to show I am no magic well, no guru, no professor. It is true that in the past I fixed a lot of problems in a few seconds time thanks to having experienced them myself

People today still call me for silly problems that a simple Google/Stackoverflow search may solve.

In a period I was busy with my own tasks I tried to become unfriendly, answering "I have my stuff to do", "The help desk is open only 30 minutes a day". This resulted in panic and few chats with executive staff (who became aware that staffing me to the help desk could drain my time over the project, jeopardy deadlines, etc.).

Today I have got another mail with Cc some senior members who are too busy with their own activities. Note: I interpret Ccing instead of addressing the mail as an attempt of escalation ("Hey, team leader, I can't proceed until /usr/local/ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ fixes my problem").

I politely answered "Have you looked or asked on Stackoverflow? I would have done the same".

Note 2: we are not motherlanguage English speakers, but there is quite a decent level of English here at least in written form.

Question: what kind of attitude or social exercise should I adopt in order to encourage people to first try to solve problems on their own, and then ask other members for advice? And to keep friendly with them.

If the staff member proved me to have done some research, instead of vomiting a screenshot on her client, I would have been happier to lift my shiny metal bu** [nsfw] from my chair and go to help.

  • 6
    Related/duplicate question: How to prevent being used as a personal encyclopedia by coworkers?
    – Glorfindel
    Jul 27, 2017 at 9:12
  • Some of your first examples are perhaps too harsh for a workplace but that largely depends on your culture and your level of seniority. What prompted this question? Are your responses not working? Do you want to reduce the number of times you're contacted? (EDIT: that's probably addressed by the question @Glorfindel linked) Do you just want a set of possible responses to give to people who need to do some of their own research first so you can vary it up?
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 27, 2017 at 9:12
  • Agreed on possible duplicate. I'll be reading the answers there Jul 27, 2017 at 9:18
  • 11
    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Obviously, you also do not always stick to your own advice ;-) Jul 27, 2017 at 9:23
  • 1
    We'd answer your question, but we're not stack.... oh, wait...... Jul 27, 2017 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


When you get a question that shows no research effort, simply reply with a question. "What have you tried?" or "What have you been able to find out about what may be causing this problem?". If they don't have an answer then simply tell them to come back when they have some effort to show.

Make it absolutely clear that you do not answer bad questions. Point out that there are already solutions to most of their questions available on the internet (Stack Overflow). Tell them to go search there first before asking any kind of question not directly related to how you do it at your company. As the old saying goes:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Do not get manipulated by the CC. CC'ing the email to somebody higher up the ranks then you is an easy (dirty) way to make the problem seem like it's yours. Ignore the CC. Be firm — not rude — when replying to bad questions. It is highly unlikely that your management will have a problem with this (as long as you stay friendly). In the case that they do decide to talk to you about it you still have a strong argument for not answering bad questions. You have a job to do — things to get done — and bad questions are a waste of company time.

  • 9
    "If they don't have an answer then simply tell them to come back when they have some effort to show." --- in other words, instead of telling them you're not Stack Overflow, act exactly like Stack Overflow does :-) Jul 27, 2017 at 10:01

I was on the other end of this (using someone as a helpdesk, not intentionally!) and here's what worked:

  • I would approach a senior dev with a technical issue. I'd give a synopsis of what's happening, what I was expecting and what wasn't working.

  • The senior dev would say he'd take a look in {timespan}, he's busy at the moment.

  • I'd go back to my desk after having verbally explained my problem outloud and realised the solution is X.

  • Senior dev would begin walking over, I'd tell him I'd fixed it.

After a few of these, I eventually started walking through problems in my head by explaining it back to myself and stopped needing to ask other developers.

Telling other developers to come back at a later time the same day gives them a chance to think it through and solve it on their own. The truly lazy will just wait for that time period but it should help.

  • That's great but how should OP transfer this answer to the people who are using him as a helpdesk?
    – Jonast92
    Jul 27, 2017 at 10:28
  • By doing the inverse, I guess I didn't make that obvious so I'll update my answer. Jul 27, 2017 at 10:32
  • This is called the "rubber duck debugging" and helps a lot Jul 27, 2017 at 11:17
  • 2
    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ buy your colleague a rubber duck 😉
    – fubar
    Jul 27, 2017 at 12:26
  • 1
    That's also called the "wait one hour" tactic :) Many years ago, a senior dev advised me to do this when others would continually ask me questions... advise them I'd address it as soon as I could, wait at least one hour, then get to their issue. By that time, they'd often figured it out themselves.
    – SWalters
    Jul 27, 2017 at 15:35

Here is how I deal with this (on a daily basis).

First you need to realise that you are in that position because you have more knowledge than other people.

Second, is that the people asking the questions probably don't see what is wrong with asking "a quick yes/no" question. Yes I do realise its not always a yes or no answer, but I can tell you to them, the answer to these question is trivial and they want your answer quickly to get back to what they deem important. It's not that they are incapable of finding it out, they just want a quick answer so they can continue. I would equate this to asking someone if the kitchen light is on rather than walking to see for yourself.

The Solution

What has worked for me (and still does) is tell them that you are busy and give them a starting point. Then reinforce that if they are still stuck to come back. Here are a couple of phrases I use.

Example 1

Hey Homer, I have a lot on my plate right now, can you start looking vague place in the code that is on the right track and if your still stuck we can get together and figure it out. Right now, I just need to focus on my current task.

Example 2

Hey Lisa, I am actually not sure off the top of head. Have you tried checking the properties? I have a funny feeling its in there. Do a bit of digging and if you can't find it, I'll take a look. I know I have found it before.

Example 3

Hi Seymour, can you take a closer look? I think the answer is around some technical place, but its been a while. Take a look around there and let me know if you have any issues.

The last thing I found useful, was to talk to my supervisor and tell them that I am getting interrupted over basic questions that everyone should be able to answer. I only use this option when deadlines are approaching and I need to concentrate, but ask your supervisor to tell the team that you are really busy and to go to to them first and the supervisor will decide what traffic gets directed to you. This is a very sort term solution and should only be used in extreme circumstances. This last example causes more work for your supervisor, so only go there is you really need it.

Like I stated before these question usually arise because people feel a bit lazy, or want to move faster so they think "oh, Bob will know the answer to the thing I am stuck on. That will be quicker than me looking it up."

TLDR; Find an excuse so you don't have the answer right now for them and point them in the direction of the answer without feeding it to them

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