Apart from the obvious questions relating to specific project work someone is working on are there any questions I should be asking a fellow dev who is leaving the company?

So far I am thinking about;

  • Locations of things on the server he uses that not maybe everyone does.
  • Credentials he has set up that we wouldn't have needed.
  • Client details he has not yet saved into our CRM system.
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    "Where have you hidden the backdoors and logic bombs?" Or is that just my current job? :) – Neil Aitken Nov 3 '10 at 10:29

A phone number and/or e-mail address.

No matter what you ask him before he leaves, you will remember 10 more things to ask him as you see his car pulling out of the parking lot.

Note: you are much more likely to get good information if he is leaving on good terms - try to make the transition as pleasant as possible (no matter why he is leaving).

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    and agreed-upon consultancy rate. – user1249 Nov 2 '10 at 22:09
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    Make it $200/hr with $300 after 8pm and weekends, and he will gladly pick up the phone and answer the odd "Do you remember the name of the class that encrypts the user passwords" kind of questions. Paypal him the money as soon as he hangs up the phone. Keep him happy or he will just screen you out. – Christopher Mahan Nov 3 '10 at 5:48
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    Even if he's leaving on bad terms, he'll still help you at $200/hr :) – Christopher Mahan Nov 3 '10 at 5:49

Whatever you ask him, record it. You will eventually need every little detail and you cannot remember it all even when writing it down.

Video conference, screen capture, you name it.

And then tell him to show you it all....

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    "And then tell him to show you it all...." That sounds so... dirty... – Tarka Nov 2 '10 at 22:05
  • @Slokun, if it goes beyond what is normally expected from an employee, you'll have it on tape for future blackmail. – user1249 Nov 3 '10 at 14:55
  • Remember to check the recordings. Nothing worse than finding that the audio channel is blank. – JBRWilkinson Nov 4 '10 at 11:14

If he quit by himself (i.e. wasn't laid off/fired), then ask why he quit. That may help keeping others in the future, especially if several people end up quitting for the same reasons.

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    And because if he's leaving due to becoming annoyed with the company, you might want to check for time bombs. – user4051 Nov 2 '10 at 22:06
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    I think it is unlikely that anyone will leave time bombs. If anyone was ever stupid enough to leave time bombs, they will never work again. If you did find bombs, contact law enforcement. Most people want to get work again. They will probably want a reference. If you are already at the "we don't give references" stage of hostility, then the employee leaving makes career sense for them. – Tim Williscroft Nov 2 '10 at 22:31
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    In the interest of not burning bridges, most exit interviews will not yield much additional information. Either it will be obvious much before the exit interview that the person left because of issues with the company, or it will be a standard "I found an opportunity I couldn't pass up" answer (i.e. "it's not you, it's me"). – Wonko the Sane Nov 2 '10 at 23:52

Has he checked in everything to source control! Very annoying to find out after his old machine has been reformatted that the last three months of work he did wasn't checked in and no one else has it.

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    If it's possible for a developer in your team to get into that state, then your team has worse problems than a developer leaving. – user4051 Nov 2 '10 at 22:05
  • There was an interesting case where a developer left and didn't remember to check in source files. The compiled classes were being used in production and now we don't have source for them. – Josh K Nov 2 '10 at 22:11
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    Sometimes the developer doesn't know he's a lame duck... – Wonko the Sane Nov 2 '10 at 23:46
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    @Josh, you may want to consider a policy of "Only stuff built by the build server can be tested/go to the customer" to avoid this situation. – user1249 Nov 3 '10 at 8:27
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    We just retired a computer last year that was the last computer able to build a certain component for a shipping product (the .NET replacement for this VB4 app was finally released 3 years late). It used a 3rd party component with an aggressive copy protection scheme and the vendor went out of business 8 or so years ago. This guy quit 3 years ago, and all the other devs who had worked on the product had long since upgraded their machines making this machine more critical than it should have been. – Tangurena Nov 3 '10 at 15:38

Commit early, commit often.
When someone is planning to leave is not the time to make sure their work has been checked into source control, their contacts put in your CRM system, their documentation written... these things should be followed up on every day for every employee, regardless of how long you expect to have them. Some people get hit by buses, you know (literally or figuratively), and even if there is time to prepare for someone's exit from your organization, during that time period their focus is not likely to be 100% on you, no matter how much they intend it to be. A constant cycle of documentation is the answer to all of these woes.

When exit time nears...
I'm absolutely sold on the suggestions to make sure to have contact information for your former employee, and arrange a consulting fee for those "oh, shoot, we need to find out how $thing works" moments.

In addition to that, I'd ask for:

  • A to-do list for the next couple of days, so you can farm out whatever he would be doing until your workflow has adjusted to him not being there.

  • A list of what he thinks you should look for in his replacement. Asking "what went wrong?" is less probative in my opinion: If he's unhappy with the company, you are more likely to get an emotional answer than a logical one. If he's happy with the company, you are likely to get a non-answer because he won't want to burn bridges.

    Asking about his potential future replacement, on the other hand, is more likely to reveal useful information, because he's not being asked to focus on you or him or your relationship. The future replacement doesn't exist yet, so no one thinks about offending him/her. It's easier to say, "look for someone who is at least moderately interested in managing others, rather than a straight coder" than "you gave me too much management responsibiliy; I'm a coder, not a manager".

  • When you find out that someone is, indeed, leaving, ask "what can we do to make the transition easier, for us and for you?". This goes a long way to show the departing employee that you care about him not just in terms of what you can get out of him, and more importantly shows your other employees that you feel that way about them. There are often little things you can do ("let me work this Saturday so I can take off Monday for the closing on our new house") that cost you little to nothing, but give the departing employee real incentive to put effort and attention into making the transition work for you. That motivation can make a huge difference in how he approaches handing things off and documenting what needs documenting, because it eliminates (or at least reduces) the feeling of "this relationship is already over, we're just going through the motions for two weeks".

Hope that helps,



"Can we have the office key back before you leave."

We have a large open plan office, and a key system that uses expensive keys. It is a major drama if someone leaves without handing back their key. Building management hates getting new keys cut for new staff members.

So we had one guy leave without handing in his key. We bugged him about it, and he eventually put it in an envelope and posted it to us ... or so he says. What we actually got was an envelope which just contained a PostIt note with a cryptic message. ("It wasn't me, it was a one armed man").

Finally we figured out what must have happened. The envelope had been through the Post Office's automatic sorting machines and the key had come out. So we ring up the Post Office, faxed them a photocopy of a similar key, and got them to look through their pile of "keys that have fallen out of envelopes". (Apparently they have LOTS of keys ...) After two weeks, the answer comes back.. They cannot find it.

So now we may need to get the office lock changed ... and 15+ expensive new keys cut ... sigh.

The upside is that one of our younger staff members now understands the "one armed man" reference.


"Can I have your Aeron chair?"

  • Already eyeing up his monitor and looking at ways of adding it as a third to my setup. Shhhhhh. – Toby Nov 4 '10 at 7:02
  • Once he's left, you can have the chair whether he lets you or not... – JBRWilkinson Nov 4 '10 at 11:08
  • @JBRWilkinson but if I ask nicely before he leaves, I can swap chairs before the gold rush begins ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Nov 4 '10 at 14:41
  • Just don't be the guy that moves all your stuff into his office while everybody else is at the going away lunch. – Wonko the Sane Nov 4 '10 at 15:28
  • @Wonko I once came back to the office after two weeks of working from home to find my desktop machine cannibalized - nothing left but case and power supply. It took half a day to track down the culprits and recover my hardware. – Steven A. Lowe Nov 4 '10 at 21:40

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