Monday, July 23, 2007

Too Many Questions

Or: Guidelines for dealing with a newbie.

If you are an experienced programmer or a manager, the chances are that you've had to deal with a new hire (or intern) who asks lots of questions.  No matter who you are, you likely were that annoying newbie at some point in your career.  Being inexperienced and new means the person doesn't the answers.  More than that, they don't know how to find the answers.  For this person, the easiest way to get answers is to ask someone.  So they asks lots of questions.  At first, it's fun answering the questions.  However, after a while, it gets tiring.  It can feel as if you're doing all of their work for them.  If you don't watch it, you might be.  If you find your time being monopolized by someone asking for too much help, here are a few suggestions.

  • Let them know that asking questions is the right thing to do - Before you try to curtail their questions, make sure they know that you aren't trying to quash them altogether.  It is important that they not get too frustrated or spend way too long on a problem.
  • Set up office hours - Just like a professor in college, consider setting up specific times when this person can come ask you questions.  This will encourage them to batch up their questions and spend time trying to solve the issues on their own.  This tactic also ensures that you have large blocks of uninterrupted time to get your own work done.
  • Set minimum research times - Set up a minimum amount of time this person should spend investigating on their own before they come to you with a question.  My suggestion is on the order of two hours. 
  • Give them a list of actions to take before coming to you - Provide a list of questions this person should answer or tasks they should complete before coming to you with a question.  Give them a checklist to facilitate their ability to investigate on their own.
  • Have them repeat the answers back to you - If you find someone is asking the same questions, this probably indicates that they didn't understand the answers you gave.  In this case, have them explain the answer back to you before they leave your office.


If you happen to be the new hire, know that your questions can be seen as disruptive if they are too frequent.  Try to impose the recommendations above on yourself.

1 comment:

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