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I work as a Junior Engineer for a large, mid-western company, working in a non-development role. In the course of my work, I have taught myself Python and SQL (I have received no formal training through my employer in these languages). I use these languages daily, both as automation or scripting tools, in development of support software for my group, or as database analysis tools. Others have taken notice, in particular one of our group's Senior Engineers.

He has begun constantly asking me general Python questions, and has several times had me spend the better part of a day demonstrating programming tools or explaining data structures, or other Python concepts. I like this guy, and don't mind helping him out, but now others in the group have asked me to do the same thing. So, I guess my question has two parts:

  1. Is it appropriate for others within the group to expect me to teach them the technical skills I acquired on my own to help me do my job better? Is there a way to politely decline these requests without seeming like the troll under the bridge protecting his "magic"?
  2. Is this an indication that I need to either seek a promotion due to these skills, or should look elsewhere? Despite my developing tools that are used daily by other members of the group, and that have saved countless hours, I've been told that there is a hard tenure requirement for advancement in my current group.
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    is it appropriate for others within the group to expect me to teach them the technical skills I acquired on my own to help me do my job better? do others ever help you when you are learning something else that you do not know? Is it inapproriate for you to ask them questions? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 26 '17 at 21:11
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    "Is there a way to politely decline these requests without seeming like the troll under the bridge protecting his 'magic'" - isn't that exactly what you're trying to do though? If the issue is (instead) that you have other things to do and spending your time helping them severely impacts your productivity, you might want to focus on that instead. – Dukeling Sep 26 '17 at 21:31
  • Teaching is a valuable skill and experience. Consider carefully if you really don't want to develop and practice that skill. Also, teaching others also improves your own technical skills (you haven't mastered something until you can explain it to others). You can of course bring up the teaching in your next performance review. – Roland Sep 27 '17 at 6:27
  • Maybe you should consider to aim for joining the developmental group of your company. You can already demonstrate that you are able to develop tools useful to your colleagues. As a junior, you will benefit far more from being embedded in an environment where you are the dude who is asking the questions rather than playing to role of the one-eyed among the blind. – NoBackingDown Sep 27 '17 at 15:28
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Is it appropriate for others within the group to expect me to teach them the technical skills I acquired on my own to help me do my job better?

If you were hired to do so then yes, it is expected from you. However, it seems that you were not hired to specifically teach your coworkers about programming languages whatsoever, so technically you are not forced to do so.

However, have in mind that helping others in your company is something valuable and to some degree expected from you (some people call it "being a team player"). It is always expected for coworkers to help each other out when possible, but at the same time you are not forced to help them each and every time.

Is there a way to politely decline these requests without seeming like the troll under the bridge protecting his "magic"?

You can always excuse yourself by explaining your coworkers that you have other tasks and projects to do, and that even though you enjoy teaching them doing so too often will surely affect your performance, probably falling behind other tasks (the ones you were actually hired to do).

Is this an indication that I need to either seek a promotion due to these skills, or should look elsewhere?

I see two cases here:

  1. If they want you to teach them on a regular basis, additional to the tasks you currently have, then some sort of promotion or raise should be included to compensate for that increased workload you have now.
  2. If now some your tasks are to be reassigned so you have the same workload while teaching your coworkers, then a raise or promotion would not be too recommended for this case, as you were "just" reassigned to new tasks.

If you should look elsewhere for a job is really up to you. I suggest you ponder this two cases so you can decide better. Also, I think that speaking with your manager about this situation (and the 2 cases exposed) is also worth a shot, so you can come up with a solution that works for both.

If you find that teaching is something you are not going to enjoy doing then you would probably be better seeking other job, where you do tasks you actually want to do.

However, if you can tolerate, or even enjoy, teaching then there is no need for you to quit. Again, be sure you are ok with the new agreement you come up regarding these new tasks. If you feel you are not being paid what you want for these new responsibilities (even though you enjoy them), then again you would probably do better seeking for a new job. Hope this words help you, good luck.

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    Regarding your answer marked 2, I would contend that there is more to tasks as pure workload, but also competence or responsibility. Since it's not normal to get a promotion through what may be a small change to your workload or responsibilities, I agree that a raise/promotion may not be appropriate immediately, but should play a part in future discussions. – JonathanS Sep 27 '17 at 11:30
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    One thing I think is missing in your excellent answer is that there should not be an automatic connection between hierarchy at work, and the amount of knowledge on a subject. E.g. it is unreasonable to expect that a senior developer has to know more than a junior about any given topic. Why an organisation chooses to promote someone in a hierarchy may be down to very different criteria. – JonathanS Sep 27 '17 at 11:33
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    I just wanted to add, that a lot of work contracts do allow your employer to assign you other "reasonable" tasks. Refusing to put your best efforts into fulfilling these would then be a breach of contract. so yes, they probably can - kind of - force you to do the teaching. – Daniel Sep 27 '17 at 13:45
  • Good observations @JonathanS – DarkCygnus Sep 27 '17 at 14:00
  • Yes @Daniel that is why I explained that there could be a case that his tasks are reassigned or modified so the OP teaches them. This, however, should be discussed with his boss, so they can decide what to do. – DarkCygnus Sep 27 '17 at 14:02
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I consider it as normal that your colleagues are seeking your help to improve their own technical skills. However, you indicated that you support takes more and more of your time. You can politely decline their requests in telling them that you need to get your own tasks done.

Regarding your second question, I would consider your situation to clearly indicate that you are eligible for a promotion/pay raise. You contributed fundamental tools to your group that save valuable work time and hence money. The important point here is that you did far more than others to improve efficiency. You should make sure who owns the rights on your tools. This could give you some leverage when negotiating a higher salary.

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1) is it appropriate for others within the group to expect me to teach them the technical skills I acquired on my own to help me do my job better? Is there a way to politely decline these requests without seeming like the troll under the bridge protecting his "magic"?

I don't see why this wouldn't be appropriate, you would still have the option to teach them or not. As I see it you might feel that since no one thought you, everyone should learn on their own. If you don't like the idea of teaching your peers about something not work related you could get out of the hook by giving them directions on how to learn on their own, but they might still ask you questions.

2) is this an indication that I need to either seek a promotion due to these skills, or should look elsewhere? Despite my developing tools that are used daily by other members of the group, and that have saved countless hours, I've been told that there is a hard tenure requirement for advancement in my current group.

This question might highly depending on your company policies, some companies have departments which are in charge of developing tools to improve performance, in some others they might give you a bonus/raise/promotion for doing so. If I were you I would bring up this topic with my supervisor.

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The reasonableness is related to "team perspectives". In a pure-team world it is reasonable for every team member to expect all other team members to share, up until the point it degrades team performance (e.g., spending too much time and not getting other things done). In a pure-individual world, everything you keep to yourself is an asset to you. Giving it away for nothing doesn't make sense. Where along the pure-team and pure-individual spectrum do you and the work environment sit? I'd error on the side of sharing unless there are hard reason to not share.

It seems what you have is valuable to several. Teaching 1-on-1 is good, but not always efficient. I would propose a series of classes. You can start informally, even at lunch time. If things go well, you can propose a more formal situation to management. Build a syllabus and course outline. Demonstrate the value to the company in the proposal (soft and hard $). If you already have students "enrolled" and pulling for you, and you can demonstrate the value to the company, it should be an easy sell. As part of the process, you can inquire about getting a piece of that value into your own pocket.

  • @JoeStrazzere, Yes, there is a good chance of that. By having the operation up and running though it minimizes that to a small degree. Packaged correctly, they would be "not approving to continue" something that is currently providing value. The first one is free... – Randy Buchholz Sep 26 '17 at 23:15
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I've been told that there is a hard tenure requirement for advancement in my current group.

As I see it, this is the main issue.

Either you need to change your current group, or change your current company.

Of course, sometimes employers lie to keep their employees in line, but even if that's the case, it doesn't get you any closer to you changing their minds. So look for a new position, either internally at another group, or externally at another company.

But do note that teaching others is not a zero-sum game, teaching others is a great way to reinforce your own knowledge and grow an ecosystem of fellow practitioners.

If you want to limit the number of bad questions you receive, you can always ask that they follow the process on StackOverflow, look for duplicate questions before posting, post the question on StackOverflow, stating what they already have tried, and then email you the link. And then, don't even promise that you will answer their question, only that you will look at the question.

Or if you think your time is not being valued enough, ask that they bring tributes to you: bagels, fruits, beef jerky, or simply make a small $10-$50 donation online in their own name to your favorite non-controversial charity (I'm only saying that they should use their own name to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests, since if they did the donation under your name, you might be able to claim it as a tax deduction for yourself. Also, I think that the charity should be non-controversial just as a precaution to avoid creating problems at work for yourself).

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