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Background

I am 32 years old. My background is in Physics and a bit in Computer Science. My previous experience was on ERP consultant business. I started my software engineering career when I was 29.

In my current company, my boss told me that I have to teach the junior level not ask them to teach me.

At first, I am OK with this, but when the project starts to get bigger and more complicated, many techniques, more patterns, unit tests and alien libraries come into the game.

As far as I know him in person, he is a very talkative guy and he told me that he copies white people characters from America. He is Thai like me, but lived in the US for 10 years since he was young. I am younger than him by 3 years.

In Thai culture in general, senior members must have a high capability and experience to help and support junior level. I understand this point. However, in software engineering which is fast changing, no one expects to know everything.

Questions

  • Is it very serious for a senior programmer to ask a junior level for help because I do not know a technique or library?

  • Does my boss have a hidden message in this?

  • Is it American culture to not let a senior ask a junior for help?

In my opinion, age does not matter. Experience is what is important.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ælis, avazula, OldPadawan, sphennings, Rainbacon Mar 4 at 18:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • There are many, many different cultures in Asia. Which one? You have the tag united-states. Are you actually in the US or is the company you work for run by a US company and set the rules? Your boss is the one who seems to be setting the rules - where are they from? – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 19:09
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    I am Thai. This company run by Thai people. Yes my boss is the one rule this company. – Sarit Sep 6 '17 at 19:12
  • Is your boss the one you're describing or one of your subordinates? – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 19:22
  • I've edited your question to clean it up for clarity. Please feel free to edit to clarify anything I've messed up. I hope that this edit reflects your intentions. – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 19:26
  • @Catija Thank you very much for editing my question. I got good answers. – Sarit Sep 7 '17 at 5:08
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In Thai culture in general, senior members must have a high capability and experience to help and support junior level. I understand this point. However, in software engineering which is fast changing, no one expects to know everything.

This is, quite simply, the point you should explain to your boss.

It is always the case that you can find a new, young team member who happens to know about a specific technical area more than other team members.

This is absolutely the case with all technical disciplines.

There is a story I tell people relating to this issue or seniority and technical knowledge which may be useful to you. There was an aircraft crash (Korean airlines). At night the captain became disorientated (a night take off - this can happen) and lost a sense of where the horizon was. He started to direct the plane into a steeper and steeper bank which led, over a period of minutes, to the plane crashing. After the investigation it turned out that the co-pilot, a much younger man, evidently understood the problem and made a half-hearted attempt to alert the captain. But he was not forceful or direct enough, and this is thought to be a result of the culture of the company and his country (possibly similar to Thailand in this respect).

After the accident report was published, heavily criticizing this cultural problem, the airline did react positively and trained all their pilots to, in essence, ignore the rank and cultural aspect of seniority and concentrate only on what they know to be correct, asserting their authority based on knowledge, not on rank or seniority.

Your case is not so safety critical, but the story may be useful to illustrate to your boss the problem with these cultural norms in a technical setting.

Is it very serious for a senior programmer to ask a junior level for help because I do not know a technique or library?

No. The opposite - it is a sign that you understand when you need to accept help and are not too proud or aloof to ask for it from the people you have around you.

The people who join your company, regardless of age or position, are assets. Each one has a unique history and has acquired their own mix of technical and soft skills. It is very, very healthy that a company allows these people to exchange knowledge regardless of age or position.

Does my boss have a hidden message in this?

Only he knows that.

I suspect he is simply showing his own cultural bias, which is understandable.

Then next question, is it American culture to not let a senior ask a junior for help ?

No.

American and western culture in general, especially in technical disciplines, encourage sharing of knowledge without reference to rank.

Having said that, some people (and in some companies) may be reluctant to ask a junior for help or advice. They feel embarrassed or that they are loosing face or, in some cases, they are afraid they will be fired or replaced by the junior.

I think many mangers do not understand that senior technical people are not walking encyclopedias of detail, but are people with more experience of real world problem solving in a commercial environment. Of course they often do have considerable and wider knowledge than a junior person, but that does not mean they should or could have more depth in every subject - it's simply not possible.

In my opinion, age does not matter. Experience is what is important.

Me too. Alas the rest of the world is not as simple. :-)

You must work within and around the cultural limitations of your country, organization and the internal politics of your organization. This is, itself, a difficult set of skills to learn. My experience is that technical people are often blind to these issues, so you are well ahead of the average in this respect.

  • There's a good write-up and exploration of the crash you're describing in Gladwell's Outliers. – fectin Dec 11 '17 at 20:10
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I am an Indian working in the US. I work in a small IT company with people who've been in this very company doing IT work for over 18 years (literally, my office neighbor has been here for 19 years). I am 28 years old, been in this company for about 6 months now. Been in IT for 2 years.

The 19-year veteran has called me into his office at least 10 times, asking me to help him with SQL query. He asks me SSRS questions as well. I have been working on SSRS for 6 months (since I joined this job) and he has been for 4-5 years. He still comes to me with questions.

So to answer your questions:

  1. I know exactly what you mean by "Library". It is IMPOSSIBLE to know all the libraries (unless you are Jon Skeet). Everyone needs a little help. Acknowledging that you do not know something is the first step of learning something. If Google does not help you with something, do not feel afraid to go to someone about it. Junior, senior, does not matter.
  2. As I mentioned, I am Indian. I worked in India for 1 and a half years. I am not too sure if the cultural beliefs are similar, but Indian bosses act like what you said as well. There is no hidden message. The direct message is, "Have some pride! You are older, you should know this". Something I don't really like about my people. The arrogance. I once almost got fired for telling my boss how to do something. I wasn't being rude, I just suggested that maybe we could do it differently. He stood up and screamed at me for 15 minutes. Sentences like "You are a little kid, what do you know" and "don't teach me stuff, I know it better than you. I am older" were thrown at me. It is VERY common in India as well.
  3. NO! Americans are NOT like that. Asian countries have a VERY skewed opinion of what Americans are like. I was forced to wear a tie on Fridays because that is how they do it in the US! Not even joking, that was a rule. They'd send you back home if you didn't wear one. This was during my training period, not when I got my project. But still. Like I mentioned, Americans want to learn. The culture here is very different from what I've seen.

Lastly, you mentioned that your boss is the one who "rules" the company. If you think your boss has the capacity to fire you over something like this, DON'T ask your junior for help. There is literally nothing you cannot find with a little bit of Google. If that doesn't help, since you're already a StackOverflow member, post a question on there.

If asking your junior for help means losing your job, don't do it. Morally and ethically, it is actually looked as a positive thing to ask anyone for help. You're willing to learn, no matter the cost and you are willing to let go of your pride to get something done.

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    The irony of having to wear a tie on Friday is that many companies have a "casual Friday" policy, where you don't have to be as dressed up. – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 19:53
  • @Catija I know, right?? And it is not like people in India don't watch American TV shows and movies. EVERYONE knows it. Or maybe not, I learned that the stupid way - wear a tie on Fridays! – Crazy Cucumber Sep 6 '17 at 19:54
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    @CrazyCucumber Thank you very much for sharing. Although I have planned for worst case I am not ready to quit now. He is very Nazism. First generation workers of this company all of them left because of his propaganda on his democracy and fairness. I am second gen and I found that he is thriving to improve himself which is reflect company performance so much. – Sarit Sep 7 '17 at 4:14
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It looks like it should be handled more professionally, if you have higher range than him, don't explicitly "ask for help", just tell him something like "Can you explain this please?", you might not know everything but you are able to, if he knows something that you don't, just ask for "explain" not for help or teach.

If your boss told you not to ask him to teach you, this is probably exactly what he meant.

Is it very serious for a senior programmer to ask a junior level for help because I do not know a technique or library?

It is not very serious, it depends more on how much knowledge you have in general and how often it happens.

Does my boss have a hidden message in this?

If he has a hidden message or not you should act responsable and profesionally.

is it American culture to not let a senior ask a junior for help?

No it's not.

Age can affect any relationship, so you have to act with professionalism.

Source: I am a developer, I was Junior and I have a close professional relationship with my current boss after many years.

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