I work as the sole web developer in my department doing back end work. As I'm sure many of the developers here will attest to, a large portion of the time spent programming is spent on thinking how you're going to write the next class, function, etc..

I have a co-worker who is not savvy in software development who takes notice when I am not touching my keyboard. He often walks by my office and sometimes comments on how I should ask for something to do from my superior if I'm not busy. I often tell him that I actually am busy, but as my monitor is turned away from my office door. He is always incredulous.

While I can understand how it may seem that I'm watching videos or something by not actively typing for long periods of time, these comments are starting to get annoying. Frankly, I think he should mind his own work since I don't report to him in any way.

How can I politely deter his comments?

  • 4
    Do you actually mean "politely" or do you mean "successfully"?
    – gnasher729
    Sep 25, 2018 at 7:28
  • How does your company organize tasks? Do you use a ticket based platform?
    – Cris
    Sep 27, 2018 at 11:56

6 Answers 6


I like the advice of another answer that suggests educating the person, given your assumption that they simply don't understand what your job entails. However, I found the analogies suggested there could be perceived as condescending, particularly to someone who is a bit insecure.

Surely, this person is being quite rude to you, and you would be justified to some extent in being rude back, but you specifically asked for a polite response.

I would simply explain to them what is obvious to anyone who has written software: explain that you are planning in your head the next steps you are going to take so you can write good code that doesn't need to be rewritten, has a structure that can be easily understood by someone else, executes optimally, or whatever other coding values you have that you are upholding.

If education like that doesn't solve the problem or if they want to argue, I would address the specific issue more directly, putting into your own words something like: "I am working even if it doesn't look to you like I am, and my supervisor is happy with my productivity. I would rather you not interrupt me anymore while I am busy."


Is your coworker your manager or could in any way influence your career?


You don't have to justify anything to your coworker and I, honestly, would be mildly insulted by said collegue. You are busy, you say you are busy, and then you go back to your business. I think sometimes it's not worth to justify ourselves to other people... you could say something like:

Programming is 80% thinking and 20% typing :)

And that's it. You could explain what does it mean to program but that'd be a long explaination and you should probably leave that to a night out or lunch break.

  • Hi Cris, I noticed your pending edit on this post - if you go to the Contact form it has an option to merge your accounts, so the system will recognize you as the owner of that post :)
    – Em C
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:54

I have a co-worker who is not savvy in software development who takes notice when I am not touching my keyboard. He often walks by my office and sometimes comments on how I should ask for something to do from my superior if I'm not busy.

Being a software engineer, I get these type of ignorant comments from people who don't understand the nature of software development. There is a lot where you have to spend time thinking, researching and discussing how to approach a problem. You don't spend the entire time typing.

Some background on me. I volunteer my time teaching people basic technical literacy and programming. My approach is usually to educate first. My response to this type of person is "Would you measure a Product Manager (or pick a popular business position)'s productivity by how many emails they write in a day or how much revenue their decisions bring in?" "Would you measure the productivity of a novelist by how many words they write in a day or how many best sellers they launch?" The answer to both of these questions is "No you wouldn't, because these are imperfect measures of productivity that speak only to volume and not quality."

"Educate" route has worked for me in some cases, but if it doesn't work rather than resorting to rudeness yourself, I would talk to your manager about this person's comment and how they are hurting your productivity. Show that you tried to resolve it yourself, but this person is not receptive. Then have your manager deal with it.

  • Can you explain more about what you meant by "Educate route has worked for me in some cases"? This is a great way to resolve the situation, but what would OP educate the co-worker about? What ways should OP educate the co-worker? If educating doesn't work, then what did you mean by "resorting to rudeness"?
    – ElizB
    Sep 24, 2018 at 22:37
  • 3
    Although I agree with your suggested approach to educate in general, the examples sound a bit condescending. Any suggestion on how to avoid that? Sep 24, 2018 at 22:38
  • @ElizB How I deal with ignorant people is that I educate them to deal with the root cause of their ignorance. I assume they are not willfully being malicious. It's the same I do with racists and sexists. This works for some contentious group of people. But if some people are hell bent being willfully malicious on purpose, "educating" them isn't going to work. A manager will still expect that you made some attempt on resolving personal conflicts before escalating to management.
    – jcmack
    Sep 24, 2018 at 23:11
  • @CaptainEmacs OP asked specifically "How can I politely deter his comments?" - otherwise for sure you could suggest "Just tell them to bugger off as it's none of their business." Sep 24, 2018 at 23:15
  • 1
    @BryanKrause There are frankly worse examples such as when the colleague accuses the OP of not working to retort back "Do you have so little work as worry about what I doing?" Frankly, it's not their business to worry about what the OP is doing in the first place. I teach with metaphors and analogies and it works really well in most cases. To me this is polite. How polite to do you want to be a bully?
    – jcmack
    Sep 24, 2018 at 23:16

You have to explain to your coworker that nature of your job is such that you have to spend a lot of time thinking before typing, but you have to be careful to not make your explanation sound like an excuse. Your explanation has to be short and to the point. Using relax, confident, paced voice tell him/her:

There is this proverb: "measure twice, cut once". Meaning, measure, compute and double check everything before making changes that are hard to undo. Originally it was about things like woodworking, but in current days it also applies to my job as well. If I write code without giving it enough thought I may end up having to refactor it later and that can take from few a days to few weeks.

If joke will continue, such as

I see you don't have much to do there.

Simply answer

I already explained to you that I need time to think before I write code.

or even just

I'm thinking.


I'm thinking how to write my code.

The longer the joke continues the less attention you should give it.

But in the beginning the most important key is: be short, concise, confident and to the point with your answers. Do not let your coworker trigger you or upset you. If you do that it will signal to the annoying co-worker that they achieved what they wanted. If you stay calm, relax and confident and if you won't make a big deal about it your coworker should slowly get tired of his/her joke. Remember, you don't own him/her any explanation whatsoever. Getting mad and/or going over the board may backfire, spoil relationships and cause even more annoying remarks.

  • 1
    Just saying: There are people that you shouldn't upset. You might upset them and think you are achieved your goal, and then they UPSET you in capital letters.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 25, 2018 at 16:18

Everything is easy if you are not the one who has to do it. That seems to apply to your colleague very strongly. He doesn't understand what you are doing, so it must be easy. (Strange enough, I often think that things I don't understand must be hard).

The next time he comes, get out of your chair, ask him to sit down, and have a go at writing some code. It might give him some insight, when he realises that what you are doing is something he literally cannot do.

But that's something you just do for your own entertainment and to cut him down to size a bit. As Jomack said in his answer, what this person does is absolutely rude and unacceptable in the workplace. So when he suggests you should ask your manager for something to do, you offer to take him straight to your manager and discuss the matter.

  • I afraid that "get out of the chair" approach may backfire by poisoning relationships and causing even more annoying remarks. Sep 25, 2018 at 4:11
  • @AlexL Since this is in the workplace, there are appropriate methods to handle those even more annoying remarks, which usually involves HR.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 25, 2018 at 7:27

As your colleague does this when they are walking by, you have an obvious reply:

I see you are not so busy yourself, as you are walking around again (and breaking your colleagues' concentration).

That should allow your colleague to get some perspective if needed (I am not convinced they are not just joking around and trying to be social) and otherwise is the proper response to continue the banter.

  • You might be right about the "just joking around". Which should teach a lesson: If someone is "just joking around", someone else might not find it funny at all. One colleague of mine was once "joking around" about me being lazy for leaving the office before him (I started an hour earlier than he was supposed to start). That's the kind of "joke" that you can't make in the workplace. He didn't do it again. Same here. Joking about a coworker not working gets you into trouble.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 25, 2018 at 16:14

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