This is a pretty specific situation.

We are two interns working on a project for a few months and we are about to finish our internship. A senior developer has been designated to continue the project after we leave, and we are supposed to code with him as a team of three so that we can do a little bit more work while helping him start on the project.

The problem is that instead of coding, as our manager told him to before going in holidays, he keeps just telling us to code things saying "he's too busy to code", most of which are easy things to code that would be perfect for him to familiarize with the code.

Plus there is a big part of the project we are not supposed to do that the manager is saving so that the senior developer learns how to handle the project through this big part. But it seems the senior developer is trying to make us do the big part so he really has pretty much nothing to code when we will go (expect we do have work to finish and certainly not this big part).

He has been already corrected by our manager in the past for trying to make us do his job a couple times during the internship, but this time with no manager around there is nobody to prevent him from doing that.

Our manager told him that starting to code on this project was his only work for the rest of our internship.

How can we make him code without burning bridges?

UPDATE: He now says he will start coding but want us to help him, so I guess that's a start.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Remember to edit clarifications into the question. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 0:03

11 Answers 11


Essentially you can't

It sounds like this senior developer is essentially taking the opportunity to not do their work. As an intern there really isn't anything you can do about that directly. Really the senior dev is only punishing themselves by doing this since they will have to pick up an unfamiliar codebase very quickly after you've gone, although they might try to blame any problems on you interns (since you won't be around to defend yourselves) but I would expect a good manager to see through that.

You could make his manager aware that he isn't following the manager's instructions but that will be difficult to do since the manager is on holiday (if I understand you correctly) and this isn't something you probably want to do purely over e-mail. If you have any overlap with the manager before leaving you could discuss it with him but depending on the manager's current perception of the senior dev this could backfire on you so I would approach such things with caution. "[Senior Dev]" slacked off while you were gone" is probably a bad thing to say. "[Senior Dev] didn't get much chance to work with us while you were gone" is much better since this lets the manager draw their own conclusions as to whether the senior dev was slacking or not.

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    "the senior dev is only punishing themselves since they will have to pick up an unfamilar codebase" - Not to mention the flak he'll probably get when the manager returns and discovers what's (not) been happening.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:53
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    Or maybe he's doing coding on other projects elsewhere that have impending deadlines. Or maybe as the pieces of code he's delegating are "easy things" it wouldn't help him learn the code. There are too many unknowns here to comment on the senior dev's behaviour. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 12:35
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    @LaconicDroid I'm going off what the OP said "Our manager told him that starting to code on this project was his only work for the rest of our internship." but obviously there maybe things that the OP is unaware of - part of the reason why I suggest the "didn't get much chance you work with us while you were gone" approach if raising it with the manager.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 13:53
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    Suggested addition: as you wrap up on your last day or two, you'll naturally want to write a short report for your manager about your final tasks and where you've left things (especially as he's on vacation right now). This is the place where you describe the tasks you did and what remains to be done by others after you leave. If some of those were things someone else was supposed to be doing, the manager might investigate that later. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 15:17
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    @LaconicDroid We can comment on his behaviour just fine, we just can't guess at his motivation in appearing to drop the ball. But that is in itself a major problem. It could very well be true that he's on a deadline and other stuff came up (unexpectedly). But it takes two minutes to say "I'm really sorry but I won't be able to give you the level of help I wanted due to [reasons]. Try to do X and Y and if you're stuck have a look at [resources] or consult A, B or C." There are any number of ways to handle such a situation professionally. Ghosting the interns is not one of them.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 8:05

There are various nuances to take into account, depending essentially on what's in the mind of Mr. Senior. But a general answer would be :

You can't do anything, and you have no reason whatsoever to do anything about it.

There are two possibilities : either Mr. Senior is indeed too busy and is prioritizing some other work (going against Mr. Manager's request) because he knows it's the best course of action for him, or he just wants to slack off for a bit. In any case, you can't complain to Mr. Manager since he's away, and you obviously can't force Mr. Senior to do anything. You could complain afterwards, if Mr. Manager happens to come back from vacation before you leave, but that wouldn't make Mr. Senior work during his absence, and might burn bridges.

The thing is, I don't understand why you should bother with Mr. Senior when you can give your best with your fellow intern ? You're not going to be responsible for the future of the project. If Mr. Senior doesn't feel like getting up to speed and the project later suffers from it, it's not your problem, as long as you keep doing your job till the end of your internship.

Now, on to the "workplace politics" : if Mr. Manager ask questions regarding the lack of progress, you can simply tell him that Mr. Senior has been busy and couldn't allocate time to you, so you just did your best. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, you are just telling Mr. Manager what Mr. Senior said to you, without adding or insinuating anything else. You are not complaining about it, which makes you look professionnal, and doesn't officially put you in a bad spot with Mr. Senior. Of course, Mr. Manager will understand that Mr. Senior didn't do his part, and might take action, but it's either that or taking the responsibility for the lack of advancement on the project, which could be detrimental to the result of your internship (or not, but depending on your situation, it could be).

At this point, if Mr. Senior wants to resent you, there's not much you can do about it, and you probably shouldn't care because the person who might give a reference on your internship will probably be Mr. Manager, and not Mr. Senior.

Also, remember you are just interns : according to your formulation, you didn't know Mr. Senior before, and he didn't know you. He probably won't give a damn about you and will probably forget about you soon after you leave. You shouldn't think too much : if he doesn't want to help, so be it, it'll be more experience for yourself.

  • "you have no reason whatsoever to do anything about it." Well except maybe doing my job plus his for an intern salary while he's paid with a senior salary ?
    – sh5164
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:10
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    Well, considering you would be doing your best no matter what, I don't see how that makes you work more. Moreover, as I said, you don't actually know if the senior developer is indeed slacking off, or if he has more important things to do than working on a project that was handled by interns. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:24
  • I guess you're right.
    – sh5164
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:25
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    That's what I was referring to when I wrote about the possibility of your manager asking questions on the lack of progress. Of course, you won't be able to do as much, I understand that, but you have a reasonable explanation. What I mean is : play it cool, explain the situation to your manager without ever complaining or accusing the senior developer, and try to show that you did your best according to the situation. There is actually not much else you can do, and if your manager is ever so slightly competent, nothing bad will happen to you, on the contrary. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:39
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    @sh5164 In terms of worrying about having to do all of your senior's work - don't do it. Work on the portions that have been assigned to you and get as much of that done as possible. Once you've done as much of you can, then start working on his portions, starting with the sections that are holding up your own progress. You don't have to do his job completely or even well; just create a mock-up or framework with a lot of "IMPROVE THIS LATER", but with enough to give you the ins and outs you need for your code.
    – David K
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 12:15

First off, let it be, and take the opportunity to learn to not get frustrated about things that don't depend on you only. Him not wanting to do grunt work is not your problem, and him learning your code base is not your responsibility; it's his. The worst that can happen to you is the senior engineer blaming you for not understanding the code base as well as he could after you're gone, and a competent manager will usually be quick to call out his BS.

Second, you can't safely make assumptions on what's actually going on or what his intent is. For all you know, any of the following might be true:

  • He might have taken a look at the code base and found it so trivial or straightforward and well coded that he doesn't see much difficulty in taking over your code without any help.

  • Conversely, he might have taken a look at the code base and decided it was so bad that he'd be better off rewriting the mess from scratch before your manager returns.

  • He might actually be studying the code base without you realizing it, and taking advantage of having the two of you around to throw the easy grunt work at you so as to make more time to study the code base's architecture.

  • He might already know parts of the code base well enough to understand that these easy tasks won't give him more insights on how it works, and would rather spend time studying parts of the code base he's not yet familiar with.

  • Other teams might have been throwing urgent problems at him. Because your manager is on vacation, no one is around to step in and keep other teams from messing around with his time.

  • Or yeah, he might have decided to slack off while your manager is on vacation- which is something you can't do anything about.

If you feel like trying to nudge things so that they go as initially intended, try something like this at a coffee break:

Are you sure you don't want to tackle a few of these tasks to familiarize yourself with the code base?

You'll likely get the explanation upon asking.

Whichever it is, your rule of thumb should be to prioritize your own work (that your manager gave you), get it done, and let the senior engineer deal with the fallout for his own behavior, if any. Leave it at that unless there's something obviously more sensible that you can actively help out with. (For instance, if the senior engineer would like you to walk him through the code base for a few hours or write some missing docs, it'll likely a better use of your time and his than whatever task was nominally assigned to you, because he'll be up to speed faster.)

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    This is the best answer by far: in all likelihood, the senior developer has determined that doing what the manager has asked wouldn't make any sense. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 0:18

As a peer, there's only so much you can do. Other than maybe reiterating that you were told he was supposed to help with coding, there's not an awful lot you can do.

But if your job is to get him worked into the project, you should raise your concerns with your own manager. And your concerns should be raised based on the facts and your worries, not your suspicions.

Something like:

[Manager], we are trying to get [senior] up to speed on the project, but it seems he does not really have enough time to get started on the code. He keeps delegating the work to us because of <whatever he claims he's busy with>.

At this rate, we don't think he will be ready when we leave. Is there any way he can be given more time, or is there another person we can transfer this information to?

Your manager's job should be to deal with these kinds of issues. Maybe the senior really is busy, and he needs to have his schedule cleared. Maybe he's brushing you off and he needs a good talking to.

Either way; you don't know and you won't be able to find out or make him do anything, so your only option is probably to escalate it to someone who can.

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    We can't contact the manager as he is in holidays and we don't have his personnal number (plus I'm not sure he would want to be contacted during his summer break)
    – sh5164
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 10:17
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    @sh5164 There should be someone who is taking over his duties while he's gone. If not, that's a major failure on behalf of the company, and you'll either need to find someone to fall in for him, or wait until he gets back.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 10:47
  • @sh5164 I think this is your managers problem for recognizing he has a lazy senior engineer and then giving him loads of responsibility before leaving. I'd send an e-mail or leave a politely written letter on the desk of the manager for his return. Tell him what happened. You're not burning a bridge by being open and honest. If you are, you don't want that bridge.
    – leigero
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 16:30
  • If you really haven't been assigned an interim manager, it would be appropriate to go to your usual manager's manager. To be honest this would intimidate most of us though. At least, you could ask, "Hey, [Director], I know that [Mgr] is on vacation but we need to discuss something that's come up. Should I schedule time with you or is there someone else who can help?" Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 21:17

Your manager told this senior developer "working on this project is your only work until the interns leave".

It may be that the senior developer does indeed have lots of other work to do. He may be working hard every day, and leaving the coding to you. Which isn't exactly what his manager says, but not bad for the company either. So a complaint wouldn't achieve much.

Or it may be that he now has 8 hours a day to spend on Facebook, eBay and so on, or worse. You still can't force him to do actual work, you are not in the position to force him. But if this is what you think he does, and it really annoys you, and you wan't him to get into trouble (which would be very understandable), you'll keep a diary what you two interns and what this senior developer have been doing every day on the project. And you hand that to the manager when he comes back.

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    @BЈовић Unless it's been edited, it says to keep track of what was done on the project, not to keep a diary of his Facebooking.
    – Mark
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 14:18

As interns, there's no guarantee you'll get a job at the end of your internship and it's a large industry where a lot of candidates are assessed mainly based on skills and experience rather than people skills (at least from my experience). Why not use the internship to get the "numbers up" on your resume by just doing the work - if the guy wants to dig himself a hole, let it be. Do as much work as you can, learn as much as you can, and move on.

As others said:

  • It's not your responsibility to manage the guy
  • He's probably taking advantage of you, but he's missing out on getting to know the codebase
  • There is a chance he's too busy

In all of the above situations, getting down to work, avoiding the politics, and looking forward to what happens after your internship is the best way to ensure things finish well for you and no bridges are burned.

  • There is also a strong chance he knows better than the trainees and the manager. Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:58

This is a great learning opportunity, what an internship is for, right?

You learn to say

No, I'm not doing that, I have my own tasks that I need my time for and you are not my boss.

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    Politely, maybe not quite verbatim, but yes. Exactly this. (OK to escalate if needed though.) Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 21:36
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    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – David K
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 15:47
  • @DavidK: why is it not an answer to the question? Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 18:26
  • While he may not explicitly be their boss, when it comes to a senior dev versus an intern he may as well be. You should almost never say anything this antagonistic to someone senior to you.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 8:11
  • Well, not verbatim, the line I wrote would be conversation I guess. But it definitely has to start with saying no. They're interns on their way out of there and they have explicit orders to do the opposite of what the senior dev wants. And it basically has to end with saying no too, the rest of the story isn't their problem, period. The rest of the sentence is explanation in case the senior dev protests. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 14:50

Here's what I expect will happen:

  • You'll try hard to finish the project.
  • You obviously won't finish.
  • Dev takes over.
  • Dev pulls a Wally and claims the code you left is rubbish, completely broken, and there's no way anyone could ever get it to work.

You cannot change any of these. So, no, you cannot make him do his job. But you can try to prevent him tarnishing your reputation, or at least reduce the impact.

First, ask for a recommendation letter by the company towards the end of the internship, before the blame game starts.

Second, privately inform your manager that you've been told by a friend there's a chance of the above sequence happening, and ask him what they want you to do to prevent that (making such accusations in public is bad for your career). At the very least that makes them aware of the issue, if they aren't already.


Start sending emails twice a week, include the interns, the senior programmer, and the manager. The manager is on holiday, of course, but these will provide 1) a log of what you've accomplished and when and 2) will show the senior programmer that you intend to report on your work, which may cause him to reconsider his actions.

While you are out on holiday we are going to start reporting via email exactly what we've accomplished, and the internal discussions and decisions that are being made in your absence so that when you return it's easy to see what was done and why.

Discussion and decisions:

Developer X reassigned Task 2 to us. We prioritized it lower than the tasks already assigned to us.

Current task list:

  • Task 1
  • Task 2


Task 1 - We've accomplished aspects A, B, and will complete C soon.

If you prioritize you may never end up doing his part, but even if you do, it'll be abundantly obvious who did the work, when, and why. He may or may not get in trouble, but that is, unfortunately, not something you can do anything about.

Do your work well, report it, and don't sweat the interpersonal conflicts. Simply report what decisions were made, if it was unilateral indicate who made the final decision (and if a reason was provided then explain why), and move on with work.


As most answers said before, you can't force him to do anything.

At the end of the day you should focus more on your workload than what this senior dev is working on. It's not your job to assess or control his work.

However, as an intern you aren't supposed to have as much responsabilities as a full time worker. As such you do have the possibility to ask for a lesser work load than what would be expected for another employee.

Important disclaimer: this is a card you must use only to a small extent and with caution.

What I mean is that it is perfectly acceptable for you to say something along the lines of :"I'm sorry, I'm not going to be able to work that much on this big part, because the main focus of my internship was to finish this other work".

  • Responsibility: I task our (paid) interns just as I would any other junior developer, and expect them to perform to the best of their abilities. The only differences are that I expect a slightly higher rate of failure and initiate communication more often. I may also spend more time "hand holding" to teach them something when I might point a full-time developer in the right direction and let him try to teach himself first. Skills vary, and all skill levels need experienced mentorship. We have interns working on a UI that will be used in a customer-facing demo right now.
    – Bloodgain
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 22:58
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    What I meant is that its much more acceptable for an intern to say "I don't know how to/ can't do that, I'm sorry, but you're the dev so could you teach me or do it yourself please?" than it is for another developper. Obviously as mentioned in the disclaimer, it isn't an excuse for the intern not to work to the best of his abilities.
    – everyone
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 7:28

As other answers said, you cannot do much to encourage him into coding and you shouldn't care about it so much. If he is really a wasteful resource then your manager will keep an eye on him very quickly.

Senior developer has got a lot of experience and can handle the project easily after you leave. There are only two serious concerns that need to be mitigated:

  1. Your opportunity to learn -which is the primary purpose of your internship. If senior dev cannot take a look at your work done, he cannot give any feedback, and you cannot learn new things (good practices or design patterns for instance)
  2. Code quality of the project. Every developer has some lacks of knowledge (me either) If senior dev doesn't actively cooperate with you, it is possible that you can make some architectural mistakes, reinventing circles, unintentionally introducing defects etc.

To solve these two, you can either:

  1. Try to politely invite him at least to your code reviews.
  2. Ask him directly: what is the best way to implement something or how to resolve some problems in the most efficient way.

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