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Background

I'm a woman, 23 years old and a freshly hired Q&A ingenior (2 weeks). I was asked to do some task (implement automatic test on Jenkins).

I ran into a problem and needed the help of someone in an other department (male, here since 2 or 3 months, work as a contractor and not as an employee, let's call him Bob). When I asked for help, he seemed very reluctant to give me some. However, since my superior (who work remotely except two days a week) insisted on the fact I had to ask him, I persisted.

I exchanged with Bob in person and via a group chat where my superior also is. Bob provided me with very little to no help and, at the end of the day, the problem wasn't solved. My superior then send a message in this chat group where he seemed cross that we didn't properly work as a team.

Here is a translation of some of the messages:

Bob, 3pm: First the PATH is wrong
and it's not the right version of XXX
your docker image is a mess

Me, 3:15 pm: What the PATH should be? And for the version, I can't have the one you use, there is only v.X, v.Y and v.Z available.

Bob 4:45 pm: uh

Superior 5:15 pm: @Bob @Noon could you see this between you since you are behind one another? Thanks :)

My superior probably don't know that we did talk in person, he only knows that the problem wasn't solved.

Problem

I understand why my superior is crossed but I don't know what else I could have done to make Bob more willing to help me. I would like to explain that to my superior and ask for his help but I don't know how to do so. I don't want to be seen as the problem, as someone incapable, etc...

Question

How do I explain the situation (and ask for help) to my superior without making him see me in a negative light?

Notes and clarifications

  • Everyone else here is very helpful and happy to answer my questions/help me when I need to.

  • Bob might be sexist but didn't talk with him enough to know for sure (maybe he is just like that with everyone)

  • This happened Friday but I only saw my superior message today

  • My superior was only present remotely Friday and is also remote today (Monday)

  • In the group chat, Bob was answering me (mostly asking me questions) but did not suggest any solutions. However, is lack of interest was more visible in person.

  • Bob didn't follow up with me. I asked another coworker of his this morning (when he wasn't here yet) and, it turns out the problem was pretty basic and easy to solve (I just needed to make an 'install' before launching my command). I posted that my problem was solved in the group chat after that.

  • Is it possible your superior sent a broad message of "working together better" hoping that Bob would realise it was aimed more at him? If your superior has access to some of your chat logs, won't your superior see that Bob has been unhelpful? – user8671 Dec 10 '18 at 10:31
  • @Kozaky I added some of the messages we exchange on the chat. I don't know what my superior think. – Ælis Dec 10 '18 at 10:44
  • @Noon did Bob ever give you any follow up on his "your docker image is a mess" comment? I wouldn't be surprised if he thinks that the problem is a lot more work than you think, and therefore is reluctant to get involved. – DaveG Dec 10 '18 at 17:17
  • @DaveG Bob didn't follow up with anything. I asked another coworker this morning and, it turns out the problem was pretty basic and easy to solve (I just needed to make an 'install' before launching my command) – Ælis Dec 10 '18 at 17:39
  • @Noon so that makes it sound like Bob just didn't know how to solve the problem (or maybe dove in too deeply). At least it ended well. – DaveG Dec 10 '18 at 17:58
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I'm also a QA engineer working with more experienced developers. What I've discovered is that 'working with developers' is almost a specialized case of interpersonal skills-- culturally, developers at many companies work and interact in very specific ways.

Some ideas that may help you:

  • Do as much work/research as you can. When asking "Why didn't x work?" or "How do I Y?", briefly mention what you tried, or options you researched but discarded. This helps because they don't have to duplicate your attempts/research to find the solutions, and don't feel like you are just trying to get them to do it for you.
  • Understand that they probably don't know the exact answer verbatim and just refuse to tell you. There are so many variables in these kind of tasks that there may be effort involved in answering even a simple question. They may not be -able- to give a definitive answer on an immediate basis.
  • List your questions clearly, with as much detail as possible, in a format that allows the dev to interact with it when they are free (messenger or email, etc). I'm sure you know how jarring it is to break 'flow' to respond to random side tasks or interruptions, even if they are important.
  • If the email doesn't do the trick, put a meeting on his calendar for a convenient time. Include details of the problems to be solved in the invite. Set time aside for your problem. This has the dual benefits of letting him know ahead of time what you are going to asking him, and making it almost impossible for him to ignore or deprioritize you once he accepts the meeting.
  • Make sure he knows you value his time and help. Be even more polite and grateful then is actually warranted (given it is actually his job to help you with this...)
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I don't really think you need to consult your boss yet at this stage. Nothing too bad/negative has been said yet. You only need to find a way to work together with Bob. So let's focus on that first.


From your example chat conversation I see 2 main possibilities why Bob doesn't really try to help you much:

1) He's busy doing for him important stuff and doesn't want to prioritize helping you. 2) He doesn't really know himself and doesn't want to admit it.

If it's case 2 you're out of luck. The only way to do it is to ask for his help when your supervisor is around and if you're both stuck show your supervisor that Bob isn't the right person. But let's assume this isn't the case here.

Case 1 is the most usual thing. Certain people can't really handle small interuptions well.

Don't assume sexism or other things against him until he really shows otherwise.

Try to aproach him neutraly again and ask him how he would prefer you to ask him questions. Whether that be direct through chat, through email, to agree on a certain timeslot where you can disturb him as much as you want but leave him alone during other timeslots even if you're stuck ...

If he ignores it and doesn't allow you to interrupt him make it clear that your superviser told you he has to help you so you don't really have any other choice but you want to at least put in some effort to disturb him the least amount as possible.

If that still doesn't work you go to your supervisor and explain what happened.

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TL/DR: Don't. It's only been two weeks. That's an awfully short time to develop a 'problem' with a co-worker, especially over one interaction.

Instead, I think you should focus more on learning to deal with Bob and people like him.

You can't make Bobs more willing to help you.

From only your perspective, I can presume a lot based on decades of experience with Bobs all over the world. Most likely, he doesn't have a problem with you or your gender. Rather, he's thinking: "you were hired to setup test cases and should know how to do that without bothering the developers for silly things like paths...and how did you get a messed up docker image anyway...I don't have time for this..."

What you can do is find ways to make Bobs just help you. Subtle difference, yes, but important.

You don't show it in the chat, but you have to demonstrate effort on you part first (like here at SE).

You: What should the Path be?

Bob (thinking): Well, what did you try? Did you look at the docs? What was it before? Is there a working image somewhere? Can't you figure this out?

Instead...

You: Hi Bob, sorry, I haven't done this before, but...the path on the last build is /foo/mem/ren and it's not working. I checked the deploy sheet and it's not there, I also checked server flimflam is it's /bah/humbug/coal. Is it server specific? Who can tell me where that comes from? Also, who can I ask about why the build is targeting 762.998 and not 769.999?

Bob: Yeah, that's been messed up since I got here, here's how that works.....

Take notes, you can't ask this again.

Basically, you have to think if your question can be framed as "please do it for me".

You might also be dealing with some procedural issues on the team. Are you also responsible for automating the build process? You really shouldn't have a messed up image. If that's the problem, you next stop is whoever is responsible for the build.

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