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I recently started on a new team, with a single fellow developer. Under the motto of 'getting her up to speed as quick as possible', my co-worker has spent the past week sitting at my desk (open office space, yet a few desks reserved for the team so he's always close) and telling me what to write down. And by that I mean spelling everything out, he's not telling me 'this is what your code should do' but he's literally telling me to write down System.out.println("Hello World");.

I'm not new when it comes to the language I'm programming in, so I don't need this kind of heavy guidance. He's explaining me things I already know, telling me to write down things I already know perfectly well how to write down. When he does end up explaining/mentioning some new trick, his way of 'explaining' allows very little/ no time to actually write stuff down or practice, so information has a very low chance of actually being retained well.

He's constantly asking (every 15/30 minutes, sometimes every hour) to see code that isn't finished yet, tells me the bits that are done are great, and then just goes on to dictate the next step, the next line of code, that I haven't had time to develop on my own yet.

Over the past week, I've tried to convince him that I am in fact, capable of doing a lot of the stuff he has been explaining to me and that it may be more productive if he started working on his own portion of work for this sprint.

I started by simply asking:

'Thank you. I think I got the rest of this, mind if I try on my own for a while? I'll let you know if I need your help'.

After that, I've pointed out directly that this way of working isn't productive. I've met his remarks with 'I know', I've typed ahead without him saying anything. I've shown that I can do stuff on my own, I've also shown that I will ask him for help as soon as I get seriously stuck (even a few times figuring out what was the problem before he did). I've asked him multiple times to let me figure things out on my own, then showing that I am indeed capable of doing so, which he seems to confirm. Sometimes it results in being able to work on my own for 10 minutes, sometimes for up to an hour, sometimes it doesn't seem to register and he just continues talking. But he always checks in really soon after.

I'm a bit at a loss here, as he's not giving me signals that he thinks I'm actually a bad programmer that needs this heavy guidance, nor are there any signals that he thinks I'm e.g. working too slow. The only reason I got from him for doing this is 'that I want you up to speed as soon as possible'. When I asked directly if my current pace of working is too slow, I got a 'no, not at all' and a 'now, type this:...'.

Given what I've already tried, and his reactions to it, would there be any other way to persuade my co-worker to let me do my work and that he should focus on his own work?

I know I can always escalate this to management/scrum masters, but I'd really like to make one last attempt without a mention of escalating if at all possible.

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    What is the office set-up? Do you have a closed (room with door) or open (cubicle) office space? – ElizB Nov 9 '18 at 14:42
  • @ElizB open office, but a few desks reserved for the team to sit together. So no change of sitting on the other side of the building. – Tinkeringbell Nov 9 '18 at 14:46
  • Is there any suggestion that your co-worker is in turn being badgered by his manager to micro-manage you, for whatever reason? – user8671 Nov 9 '18 at 14:55
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    How did he respond when you "asked him multiple times to let [you] figure things out on my own?" – scohe001 Nov 9 '18 at 15:34
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    @Jesse I've been on this team for 3 weeks now, but doing work I've done before (and he knew that when I joined the team, as he asked about it in the get-to-know-you conversation we had before I joined). It's definitely his idea to do this. – Tinkeringbell Nov 12 '18 at 10:10
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Considering what you have already tried, you may have to escalate more, and tell him to leave you be. Here are some other ideas I had to let him be happy with what he's doing, and let you work on your own:

Ask him to write down the tasks to be done that day (NOTE: NOT the specific code, just the function of the code, with a few notes on what to use, etc), and then leave you alone with it.

I wanted to try something new today! Can you write out what I need to do today, and then I'll just go ahead and do that, and you can continue work on your part, so we can do this job twice as fast! It's really not productive for two people to be programming one thing. I would rather each of us focus on what we need to do. Write down the top (any number) 5-10 tasks to do, and I'll tell you what I can do.

If he comes back and checks on you, you can then insist for him to leave you alone and you will come to him when you have a question, and that you appreciate all the help he's given so far. Something along the lines of this:

He comes over and starts telling you what to type

Can you just give me time to complete the main tasks to be done today, and I'll come to you if I have any questions? Thank you.

If he continues, interrupt him and say something like:

I will have to insist that you leave me be for the time being because I have this list of tasks to do that I understand what to do. Again, if I have any questions, I know who to ask. Please leave me be and let's get rolling on this project! What parts have you finished so far?

Diverting his attention to his part may be a tactic that works, because you can assert you are familiar enough with the tasks, but at the same time tell him that he needs to do his part as well.

If he is still insistent, something like this may help, as a last resort

Sir, I asked you to leave me be until I have questions, so I can do work. I'm feeling frustrated when you tell me what to do even though I have capability to do this coding work. I will come to you when I have questions, and have a good afternoon.

Stop the conversation right there. Just ignore him and look at the computer, move to another desk, etc. to show that you are indeed frustrated and need space to concentrate.

This method feels a bit cold shouldered, but maybe later on during a break (if he successfully leaves you alone) you can express to him how appreciative you are of his trusting you to do the work on your own, and emphasizing that if you have any questions you will go to him.

I wanted to let you know that I really appreciated the space you gave me earlier for concentration, and I got X, Y, and Z done! You can check the code for X, Y, Z while I work on A, B, and C.

This reinforces and rewards the space he gave you with compliments and continues to reinforce your boundary of you deciding who can dictate what to write and when.

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I think you're going to have to ask him politely but directly to stop it - and be prepared to refuse to negotiate. You can leave him an escape hatch to get out of the situation without feeling blamed, but any opening beyond that would just undermine your goals. Just don't move on until it's stopped for the moment, and don't let it start again without repeating something similar.

I'm sure you're just trying to help, but I know what I'm doing and in order to get my work done I need to work alone. I'll let you know if I have any questions, and please assume I don't need help otherwise. If you want to check in on progress, let's set up [daily/weekly/whatever] one-on-ones [or use the tracker, or whatever makes the most sense in your context].

In my experience, there are pretty much two main motivations for behavior like his:

  • he actually thinks you need or would welcome that sort of "help"
  • it's just an excuse to be at your desk talking to you

That is, he severely underestimates your competence (and overestimates his) and/or he is not even treating you as a coworker. These are of course not mutually exclusive, and underlying this there could be any mix of incompetence and deliberateness and malice. Regardless, the key point is that he's fundamentally not coming at it from a perspective that works for you, and so actual correction is necessary, not just a diplomatic negotiation. He needs to know that you can do your own work (and want to), and he needs to know that you're there to work, not to sit at your desk and talk. And he needs to be told it in a way that doesn't leave any room to turn it into a debate, or a defense of his motives.

His response may narrow down whether or not it's just incompetence - people who do these things deliberately tend not to want to change their minds or their behavior, and may get defensive or argumentative - but fortunately in this case you're in a workplace so you have others there whose job it is to support you.

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