I've recently stepped in to a managing position which of course involves overseeing other people's work, and guiding juniors.

There's this guy who won't stop asking questions, and many times it's really basic stuff - which eats a lot of my time and breaks my in-the-zone mode. I tried the easy-going approach of sending him a link with "Let me Google that for you", but he only got excited about the joke, and didn't get the clue. Other times I'm just telling him I'm busy, and that he should go and research it himself.

The thing is, when I wasn't in the office he did a decent job on his own, so most of what he's assigned with he can handle.

The question is how can I make him filter the issues he comes to me with? I realize that I'm the professional authority he should be addressing when he needs help, I only wish he would do it on non-trivial matters.

  • 3
    You could try getting him to [ask the duck]( codinghorror.com/blog/2012/03/rubber-duck-problem-solving.html) - not as silly as it sounds!
    – Hannele
    Feb 13 '14 at 17:38
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about how to deal with an [employee from any occupation] who asks too many questions. Feb 13 '14 at 18:59
  • 1
    You should move this question to the "Workplace" StackExchange website. It seems better suited for that site since it's more of a general "dealing with coworkers question" than one strictly related to programming-specific knowledge.
    – dsw88
    Feb 13 '14 at 19:49

Sometimes people don't get the message unless you hit them with the proverbial clue-by-four, and sometimes you need to attach a giant rock to it. You might be at that point. I'd start with "That's fairly trivial, I'm sure you can figure it out.", and head to "I would expect any developer working for me to know that. If you don't, then that's going to be a problem.". Then follow through.

I'm assuming you've had the "George, you are a smart guy, you don't need to come to me with all of these basic questions. What's up with that?" type conversation.


Have you tried just telling him?

You're trying subtle hints, and they aren't working. Telling him about a joke site might get the point across to some people, but it didn't work on him. Telling him you're busy at the moment might have sounded like you have something to get done right now, but if not you'd be happy to help.

Some people can read incredibly subtle hints. Other people couldn't pick up on a subtle hint to save their lives.

I was in a work situation (not programming related) where I was shuffled from one place to another, working for different bosses. I started worrying that maybe they didn't like my work and wanted me to approach it in a different way, but they never said so, and whenever they told me they were going to send me somewhere else, they were always smiling and friendly and never said a word about bad performance or anything like that.

Finally they sent me to a new boss who immediately told me that they'd sent me there because they thought I was terrible and useless. They might have been sending all sorts of subtle hints, but they never once told me. The new boss told me what he wanted me to do, and I did it, and he was quite happy with me.

You want him to filter the issues he comes to you with. Have you tried, "I'd like for you to filter the issues you come to me with."? You don't want him to interrupt you while you're in the zone for basic stuff. Have you told him that?

  • 1
    Honesty, directness, empathy, understanding, clarity of communication: this is both Management and Leadership. Anything else is simply a mistake. And if one is going to manage technical personell, one is going to want to get use to people who aren't great at subtle social hinting and non-direct "suggestions"; it isn't the best communication style in general, and it is worse than worthless when someone just doesn't get that the "joke" is supposed to be on them.
    – BrianH
    Feb 13 '14 at 19:15

If you're the manager and 'professional authority', its your job to manage him... not tell him to get lost and figure it out himself.

So.. you need to consider why he's asking. Is it a political thing where he's brown-nosing the boss? Is it a confidence thing where he needs to ask in order to be reassured he's doing the right thing? Is it an authority thing where he feels he needs to make sure he has sign-off?

You need to sit down with him and have an adult conversation, including review and objectives for him, and in that formal chat you can give him some more authority to do what he feels is best. Bring up the good work he did and give praise for that, and tell him you were so impressed that you know he can do it, so he should not have any worries about doing it again without coming to you for guidance. Make it seem like a promotion to "independent worker" and he should be a happy, and more confident, puppy.

Don't overdo it, ask to see his designs maybe so you can "keep in touch with the new code that's going to go in" (nothing stopping you from reviewing it and giving feedback of course). As you're the design authority, you should make time for initial meetings to go over requirements and suggested implementations which should make him feel like he's done his bit in keeping you informed too.

  • 1
    You make a good point about motivation. Most people who pepper you with non-stop questions are just plain intellectually lazy and find it easier to ask a question rather than think. But, it might also be the manager nitpicks and micromanages everything, and the developer is trying to avoid that, and thus is trying to cover all his bases. Feb 13 '14 at 18:55
  • I've been in a similar situation - architect says, "we trust you to do the right thing so go ahead and do what you think is right", and when I did that I got a bollocking "why did you not follow the new architectural standards" - of course they hadn't actually written the architectural standards down anywhere because they were "too busy". So, you can see how some people will try to avoid the telling off through no fault of their own.
    – gbjbaanb
    Feb 14 '14 at 8:28
  • How about "How do I check if there's a field named X in an object"? I would trust any dev to come up with a solution to that one on their own.
    – MeLight
    Feb 17 '14 at 17:20

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.