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I've had a few programming jobs in the past where I was the only developer working on a project. After I've left, I typically get several emails a week from these companies, usually from the developer(s) who's replaced me there. These emails are usually asking for details about how things work and how I'd best go about implement feature x based on the existing system.

I'm usually polite and helpful, but these kind of communications really start to eat into my time making every job I work on another weight around my ankle. Not to mention they're projects that I chose to leave behind me for a good reason.

My question is, would it be professionally 'ok' to tell them I'm just not going to offer support any more and refuse and answer inquiries?

NB. None of these companies are paying me any type of retainer and the inquiries are often informal questions from developers and not management.

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closed as off-topic by gnat, maple_shaft Apr 3 at 12:50

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2  
Question at high risk to be "opinion based". Anyway, I think under no circumstances anybody is obliged to work for free. So for your special case this is a clear no. (Nothing there to keep you from being a nice guy if your company was nice to you too.) –  thorsten müller Apr 3 at 10:43
    
How did they even get your email address!?! –  Robbie Dee Apr 3 at 10:46
3  
Why not offer the company a support contract, maybe on a "per request" basis, for a limited period of, say, 6 months? –  Doc Brown Apr 3 at 11:03
6  
My professional obligations for a company end on the last day I am paid by that company. –  Ramhound Apr 3 at 11:18
    
as asked, this question is not specific for programmers. Same can be asked by grave digger, Viagra sales agent, garbage collector, financial trader. "As a <insert profession here>, are you professionally obliged to offer ongoing support after you've left a company?" –  gnat Apr 3 at 12:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 24 down vote accepted

You are in no way obligated to help them.

Whether or not your former employer have realized it, they have taken a low cost/high risk decision by having only one developer work on the software. That was their (perhaps uninformed) decision, and now they are paying the price - you should not.

If you feel like helping them, you should make a support agreement where they pay you for the time spent helping the new developer, in order for you to be compensated properly for your time.

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2  
Agreed with this, but I do feel that, while not an obligation, it's professionally ethical to not take advantage of my employer's technical ignorance. Not to mention the potential reputation damage of the client saying "He made this site, and now it doesn't work, and he won't help." –  deworde Apr 3 at 11:43
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@deworde: You should answer small questions, but only if it takes only a few minutes. If it takes longer, you should tell them that you can't do anymore for free, but would give them your full attention if they pay a compensation. If they are professional they will either pay you or let you alone, but they won't blame you. –  user80577 Apr 3 at 12:26

Here's a potential e-mail to craft*;

Sorry, I'm very busy right now with my existing contracts and not regularly checking my e-mails. If you have a support request for a product I used to work on, send a message to "support@mattharrison.com", so that we can discuss setting up a support agreement. If it's urgent, be sure to prefix the subject with 'URGENT:' and I'll move it to the top of my priority support list.

Kind Regards,

Matt Harrison

Send this in response to any support request, even if you're sitting in bed eating a sammich and checking your e-mails. If it actually does look like the kind of thing where you'd want to help them immediately because it's a big deal, still send this, but immediately follow up with an e-mail saying "Just saw this, I'll help as soon as I can".

The idea here is to put them in the mindset that this is a service you provide as an extra, and if they want it, it's a chargeable service. The word discuss means that you haven't committed to anything, and by allowing them to specify 'URGENT:', if you've actually put them in a bad position (e.g. some mistake you'd happily fix just to maintain your reputation and because it's the right thing to do), you can approach these with a different mindset. "That website you made for us just lost us $50,000" is something I'd approach very differently to "we need you to change the position of the logo on the 'About Us' page".

This means that if you do make time to help (because being helpful is a good thing), then they're aware that there's been a cost to you. And if you don't, then they're aware of your reasons.

As someone mentioned, if you have an existing support agreement, or if they're under the impression that you do, you'd have to provide service anyway, but this response covers this (and they should have your support number anyway). Also, you should go into any job negotiation with the intention of clearly specifying your support terms up front, especially when it's a solo project and thus you're not working off a standard template contract for all devs, and even more especially as this has come up for you before.

How do you know if you're professionally obliged to do something? Because your professionally drawn up contract obliges you to do it. How do you know that you're not? Because the limits of that obligation are specifically mentioned in your contract (e.g. 'The employee shall provide support on all aspects of the work until the termination of employment by either party, as described in section 3'*).

*: Anyone has any improvements to the wording, please leave them in the comments

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If you havent signed a contract with the company/clients about offering help to them in future, then you can say no to such calls. There is generally a agreed support time between client and developer. The developer is supposed to help the client till the support time is breached.

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No, you are not professionally obliged to provide support for a previous employer.

If you want to do this, make sure there's a contract in place to compensate you for the time you spend.

It may also be that you could offer to come back for 1-2 weeks and train your replacement (as it were), naturally at a suitable fee.

What I would say, though, is that leaving a project should involve leaving clear documentation behind, in a suitable form.

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