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When do you step in, and why?

by dws (Chancellor)
on Jul 19, 2002 at 19:34 UTC ( #183404=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Imagine that a good friend of yours has taken on a project that is beyond their capabilities. Maybe not too far beyond, but enough so that they're floundering. You're watching them flounder, and you can see that they're in further over their head than they themselves believe.

At what point do you step in?

At what point to you offer advice? At what point do you insist on pushing advice on them? At what point do grab they keyboard?

The answer is probably "it depends," so let's consider a range of scenarios:

The Personal Learning Project that your friend has taken on to learn a new technology. Nobody other than the two of you know about the project.

The Homework Project that your friend depends on for a passing grade.

The Community Service Project that your friend has taken on. Say, to add some calendar software to a community web site that you use. (And to ensure obligatory Perl content, let's say the work will be done in Perl :-)

The Work Project that your friend depends on for their continued employement, but which has no effect on you otherwise.

The Work Project that will affect you adversely in some way if it isn't done well. (You might work at the same company, and your project might be downstream of yours.)

The Nuclear Reactor Control Program that runs the Nuke plant upwind of your community.

These present a sliding range of consequences to you, from none to possibly severe.

When do you step in, how far do you step in, and why?


I'm facing one of these issues with a friend now, and am suspicious of my initial reaction.

Comment on When do you step in, and why?
Re: When do you step in, and why?
by vagnerr (Prior) on Jul 19, 2002 at 19:57 UTC
    Well I have been on the giving and receiving end of the first two scenarios and I would have felt cheated if any of my very good University friends (they know who they are) had "done it for me" I definatly appreciated every minute of the long hours some of them would sit with me and take me though a problem that I just didn't get. On the other hand when giving help I did find it hard not to rip the keyboard out of peoples hands just to get the problem fixed.

    At the other extreme of course I would have no problem tearing the keyboard out of their hands, and I very mutch doubt there would be any objection. There are times for learning and there are times to swallow your pride and get on with it. :-)

    ---If it doesn't fit use a bigger hammer
Re: When do you step in, and why?
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Jul 19, 2002 at 20:02 UTC
    • Personal Learning - Ask if they want some hints. Follow their answer.
    • Homework - q.v. Personal Learning. (School is "Personal Learning", imho.)
    • Community Service - Give the hints without asking. Wait to be asked for more.
    • Work (no dependency) - Pull aside and give the hints. Suggest that you can be of further help. Beyond that, it's their salary, not yours.
    • WOrk (dependency) - Pull aside, give the design, and strongly suggest you can be of further help. Mention that it directly impacts you. Go to a manager if you're still concerned. At this point, your (personal and professional) success needs to take precedence over friendship. I mean, is the fact your kids eat more important than your drinking buddy?
    • Nuke Reactor - Kick them to the curb and do it right. Don't mess around with stuff like that.

    ------
    We are the carpenters and bricklayers of the Information Age.

    Don't go borrowing trouble. For programmers, this means Worry only about what you need to implement.

      I rather liked the question - it reminds us that we, as programmers, are scoped beyond my @OpenProjects.

      I rather liked this response, too.

      Nudging them towards this site would go a long way towards helping them out. We (ok, I'm new and you all built it so take credit for the work) have a good code library, tutorials, everything you need to get your friend back on the right path.

      I might, however, point out that kicking friends can lead to professional visits from our friends in the local constabulary, but tape safes have been known to slam shut without warning...

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by rattusillegitimus (Friar) on Jul 19, 2002 at 20:09 UTC

    Good question ;) Here's my $0.02:

    I tend to feel that if I offer my advice and it's not taken, on your own head be it. I'm happy to offer it any time I'm asked, and would try to sneak it in if I see my friend in need, but if it's not wanted, I'll lose interest. This makes situations 1, 2, and 4 pretty easy calls for me.

    For situations 3 and 5, I would probably get a more insistent, since there's a direct effect on me (I'll add selfishness to my confession later *grin*). Especially if it could adversely affect my job performance or continued employment. I don't think I'd take over entirely, but I would make sure my opinions are well-documented to cover myself if it all hits the fan.

    The final situation is the easiest of all. I'd move ;P I don't really trust anyone to program a nuclear reactor control program, so I don't want to be anywhere nearby when it blows.

    -rattus, rambling along

    __________
    He seemed like such a nice guy to his neighbors / Kept to himself and never bothered them with favors
    - Jefferson Airplane, "Assassin"

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by FoxtrotUniform (Prior) on Jul 19, 2002 at 20:40 UTC

    Rather than look at it by scenario, I'll look at this question by intervention:

    • At what point to you offer advice?

      I'll offer advice at pretty much any point, although for homework questions I make an effort to avoid giving the question away. That's occasionally frustrating to both of us, when my friend wants to finish the damn question and I don't want to give away the answer, but it seems to work well in the end.

    • At what point do you insist on pushing advice on them?

      I try to avoid pushing advice on people, since they usually end up fighting back and ignoring me rather than taking my advice, and it seems like a set-up for a later "I told you so". That said, if one of my friends is starting a serious project, with major implications to them (pass/fail, keep/lose job, etc), I don't mind offering unsolicited and sometimes unwanted advice.

    • At what point do you grab their keyboard?

      When the project's failure (or degree of success) will affect others. If my friend's working at a different company, I probably can't do anything, but if they're working with me, I'll raise my concerns with our manager. (I have two things in my favour here: a clueful manager, and clueful co-workers!) The more severe the potential problems (and, admittedly, the more severe the consequences to me), the less likely I am to go through "proper channels".

    --
    The hell with paco, vote for Erudil!
    :wq

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by NodeReaper (Curate) on Jul 19, 2002 at 23:25 UTC

    Reason: thunders troll, potentially offensive, adds nothing to the discussion

    For more information on this node visit: this

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by Marza (Vicar) on Jul 20, 2002 at 03:24 UTC

    Taking on a project beyond their skills? Nobody I know would ever do that! ;D I guess that depends on what you mean by that. If it is a case of doing something his has not done before(ie an sql database) versus Quantum theory.....

    All the people I know will attempt stuff they think they can overcome. Don't we all?

    As to your questions. I never push advice because a person can resent you if it fails and even if suceeds. I tend to offer opinions on what could happen, approaches, etc.

    As to the Personal Learning project. Heck I would help out. Might learn something new. Usually, a person will view this as a hobby like quest and don't get too frustrated by it.

    Homework project? I tutor math so if I knew what he was working on I would "guide" him towards answers. Just fixing it does not teach him anything.

    Community Service. Shoot if I have the time I would help out. People "usualy" don't care who does the work and are pretty happy to see anybody help out.

    Work project? Done well? That is open to interpretation. But if it had the capability of blowing up my stuff. I would help out. I don't care about the recognition as I tend to give everybody a chance. But if they clearly take advantage of me then the next time I view them as "fool me once shame on me, fool me twice...."

    The Reactor program. Welll sounds interesting but if you work there you are supposed to be capable of doing the work. Besides there are so many checks and balances that you have to do. I would not be worried. Well there are a couple people I might be! :P

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by ignatz (Vicar) on Jul 20, 2002 at 11:06 UTC
    Interfearing when not invited rarely seems to help in my experience. If they want your help or advice, they will ask for it.

    Now if it f$#!s with my s$#@, that's another matter. Then you do what it takes.

    ()-()
     \"/
      `                                                     
    
      Agreed. Even when it impacts me, I'll not give advice directly, but try and pose a question which gets them thinking in the right direction; though sometimes it can take an awfully long time to create the right question
Re: When do you step in, and why?
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 20, 2002 at 19:25 UTC
    Turn that around.

    I firmly believe that it is good to let people fail. Let them be stuck, and stay there for a good long while. Offer them advice on how to get out of it, but let them get good and far into their current trap before sitting down and forcing them to take that advice.

    Otherwise they don't have the perspective to really listen or learn.

    Of course you try to have them learn on something without major consequences. If the consequences are more important than their learning, then step in sooner. (Be aware that you may very well put the friendship under considerable strain, or else induce an unhealthy dependency by intervening.)

      Reminds me of what a professor did in one of my college classes, an algorithms analysis class.

      The first assignment we received was a problem that many of us wondered why she was giving us so long (2 weeks) to complete, as simple as it sounded: given a group of entries, their weight and values, what was the combination below a certain weight that would give the most value?

      It was after she took up our programs that she told us that it was called the "knapsack problem," one of a class of problems called NP-complete, and that one of the data samples had been designed specifically to approach the CPU time limit for users of our user group. After that, most of us never underestimated the projects we were given in that class.

      I disagree only in one point-at the point they are in the trap you mentioned that deeply, either they will accept your advice without force, or they will reject it completely, feeling it a challenge to their knowledge that they must overcome without help. Many times they will reach a point at which they will be asking around for help, if they realize how deeply they are in it (and the subject isn't classified or need-to-know, such as the automated system for initiating a SCRAM(1) in a PWR(2) based on instrument readings in something like the last situation given).

      1. SCRAM - the sudden but complete shutdown of a reactor , usually when when an abnormal situation has occurred, normally by the complete insertion of special control rods designed to quench the reaction. (3)
      2. PWR - pressurized water reactor; a nuclear reactor in which coolant (water) in the core is maintained in a closed-loop at higher temperatures and under pressure, and is piped through a heat-exchanging system to produce steam in a second, isolated loop for the steam turbines. This differs from a BWR (boiling water reactor), in which the coolant (water) in the core boils, with the steam from the core going directly to the steam turbines.
      3. And no, I'm not a nuclear engineer-the subject just fascinated me when I was younger.
        I agree and disagree on your disagreement. :-)

        I agree that they often get into a trap where they absolutely must accomplish it themselves. And they can be there for a long time. But if you are willing to wait a month or 2 (literally!), I believe that frustration will eventually get them to a point where you can sit down, assist in breaking the task into smaller pieces, and get them moving forward.

Re: When do you step in, and why?
by ehdonhon (Curate) on Jul 21, 2002 at 02:58 UTC

    Its a good question. Prompts a lot of thought, but it is a bit loaded, don't you think? I don't think there are many of us that are going to answer "let them fail" for the Nuclear Reactor example (uhm.. I hope not, anyway).

    Although, for the Nuclear Reactor example, I think my answer would be "call the cops". If this guy isn't your co-worker and you know enough about his project to know he's floundering, he's a national security risk.

    I think the heart of your question though, is more focused on the grey area that lives in the middle. From an ethics point of view, I think that any help offered in good will is ok regardless of what it is for. It is up to the receiver of the help to take on the ethical consideration of "should I accept this help?".

    From a personal reflection point of view, my natural tendency is to come on a bit strong and pushy. As a result, I try to over-compensate in the other direction. I guess my answer is exactly what you predicted... "It Depends". But the reason it depends is because I am worried about in what spirit the help will be received, not about what the help is for.

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