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In my class, everyone is looking forward to the presentation of our little project (programming with C#) at high-school.

Most of my class doesn't even know how to code properly and, because of that, they ask my help (me, being a programming lover). I'm fine with it.

Couple of days ago, someone who I don't speak to and barely know asked me for help which I tried to help. He told me that he's having X error and such. I helped and went fine for the first time.

Hours later he says that he wants his program to do X in his own way (kinda like a XY problem). When I figured it out the issue, I told him that there was a simple way to do that but he didn't listen that. I went for a search on the Internet and found a way to do it, so, to compile what I found, I wrote a sample code of that function and gave that to him.

The question that followed it was:

Can you adapt that code to match my database?

To avoid saying yes to him (because I don't want to) I told him that in the next few days I could try to.

I think that he, now, should show more effort to me and, atleast, try to do something which the code I already gave. Besides, I have to do my own project as well and it's time-consuming helping others as well.

In a nice way, how can I say that I won't do all the job for him?

  • Did you tag online-interaction because its an online class? Or because telling him no over some sort of messaging service is just one of many possibilities? If so, are you open to telling him in person during class? – Jesse Jun 4 '18 at 1:58
  • @Jesse It's a regular class, but because we all are in a internship we don't have classes and he asked me for help over FB Messenger. Sure but I barely talk to this guy, it seems pointless set something with him just to tell that. – CaldeiraG Jun 4 '18 at 8:50
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Ah... This takes me back to my early days on Stack Exchange, when I was first cutting my teeth answering questions over on Stack Overflow...

You seem to have attracted the attention of a "help vampire":

  • Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask?
  • Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?
  • Does he refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?
  • Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?
  • Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?
  • Can you tell he really isn't interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

Fortunately because of online resources like Stack Exchange this is a well known problem with some pretty good documentation.

The first thing I would recommend reading is:

https://mattgemmell.com/what-have-you-tried/

When I ask you “what have you tried?”, you can say with confidence that you’ve tried all that stuff above, and you can tell me anything promising you found, or you can say that you’ve at least come up empty honestly. I’m going to help you at this point, because I can see that you want to learn and that you’re willing to work for it, and so I want to teach you.

That’s the key realisation. When you’re asked “what have you tried?”, it doesn’t mean “show me the code you’ve written, or piss off”. What you have to do is at least try to help yourself - and the trying is the important thing.

Not just for avoiding pissing off someone who would otherwise be willing to give freely of their valuable time to help you, but actually for your own development. Do it enough times and the number of questions you’ll actually have to ask will start to go down. You’ll also be in the position to help others (including me), and that way everybody wins.

So next time you’re considering asking a question, you’d better be ready with a convincing answer when you’re asked “What have you tried?”

If your answer amounts to “not a lot”, take my word for it: the next question you get back will be “then why should I help you?”

Now I know that links to that article became so obnoxiously common on Stack Overflow that they eventually banned it from comments, but it really is a very helpful piece. Take a moment to read the whole thing. It's worth the time.

The easiest way to deter a help vampire, in my experience, is to make them work harder to get help, from you, than you have to work helping them. Ask them what they've tried. Ask them to read the What have you tried article. Ask them about what research they've done on their problem. Ask them to show you what they've written so far. Ask them to articulate what their problem is in a succinct way.

This isn't just a matter of being harsh, it's forcing them to learn the process of learning to solve their own problems. If nothing else it reduces the time it takes to help them, because it forces them to do the tedious leg work.

True help vampires want an easy meal, a quick fix, they don't want to expend effort solving their own problem. If asking you for help requires effort they may just go and ask someone else.

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    I did read all the thing and found really great! Thanks! (I could ask him to read as well but he barely knows English). The guys on my class are basically all help vampires, unfortunately, but will definitely follow your guideline! (and the year is almost done as well). – CaldeiraG Jun 4 '18 at 22:19
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We IT workers seem to see that a lot.

You have a couple issues going on. First of all, and you'll learn this if you go on to work in IT: Don't gold-plate. Meaning: do what's required, but don't deliver features/service beyond what's required. You're not doing that to be a jerk; if you deliver undesired features, the project will take longer for something that wasn't asked for. If doing a service call and you do something that the customer didn't ask for and doesn't obviously need, and you didn't clear it with them first, you'll take longer to close a support incident for no desired benefit.

You can research and find stuff on your own and as someone who has managed IT staff, I like and appreciate that. So keep up doing that - on your own time. That will make you a better programmer and more valuable.

Secondly: this is a person that wants you to do their work for them. You see that in almost any field, not just IT.

Being able to answer this request in a way that doesn't hurt you will be a valuable career skill. When I get asked a question like that, I sometimes will answer, "Can I? Probably. Will I? I'm sorry, I don't have capacity for that right now." That works on the job where my boss determines what I work on (and I can say "if you want me to work on it, talk to my boss. When he/she says so, I'll be more than happy to do this").

When it comes to homework, I'd probably answer something similar. You may get arguments from the other students, but I'd stick to my guns here about your capacity. "Sorry, I have other classes and my own assignments to do. I've helped you out; if you get stuck again feel free to let me know and I can help you figure out where this is going sideways." Then I'd ask to see their research, what they'd tried, and get them talking about what they've done. That sends a message that you'll help, but you expect them to try to help themselves first.

  • This seems far more focused on a professional work environment than a classroom and while that is where you are basing your experience from, providing a link between the two and explaining why your experience can help in OP's situation might help make this answer more useful. – Jesse Jun 4 '18 at 7:43

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