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At my current job, I have coworkers who still throw interview questions at me even though I've been working there for 6 months. I though it would end after I got hired but then it continued on and on.

What is appalling is that it is precisely the ones who are poor programmers (the manager and couple other guys) who do this most.

How should I handle this situation?

P.S. I have certainly seen this at other worksites in the past, but usually there is just one jerk with a chip on his should who does it. Here, it is many people.

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Your manager asks you interview questions? Is there any hint of the reason why? Have you proved your worth? Was he part of the hiring process? –  user1249 Jul 31 '11 at 14:05
@Jburrito what experience have you got? –  oleksii Jul 31 '11 at 14:14
Well, I usually reply with "try using javascript", here is the link that helped me codinghorror.com/blog/2008/07/dealing-with-bad-apples.html –  Kumar Jul 31 '11 at 14:20
I'm very confused; they ask you for help, or they randomly spring out of the shadows and yell "POP QUIZ TIME"? The former is very common; the later I've never heard of in my life –  Michael Mrozek Jul 31 '11 at 21:06
I dont understand, it is not natural to ask inetrview questions at you spontaneouly. There should be an introduction or reason for that. Could you explain, please? –  Kiran Ravindranathan Aug 1 '11 at 4:43

9 Answers 9

I used to be in situations like that in the past and I've found a way to get rid of that unwanted behavior against you.

The key is to stay assertive by not to putting yourself in a defensive or offensive position. Doing so will show you are actually emotionally affected by the behavior. Secondly, you need to see what's positive in the situation:

Each question you didn't know the answer that is asked to you is an opportunity to learn.

Gently reply "I don't know, I'd like to learn about it, would you explain it to me?".

If you are lucky, you won't have to reply that many times before he will stop completely asking you those questions. In most case, you only have to reply that once!

In case he gives you the explanation, good for you, you keep learning thanks to him.

In case he don't want to answer them, good for you, you have something to read when you are back on your computer.

In any case, handle the situation with a smile and don't show you are emotionally affected. There are good chances that the objective of those questions are to both demonstrate his superiority and/or destabilize you.

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+1 Wish I could do +10 on this. Definitely the best, most professional way to approach this. –  user29981 Jul 31 '11 at 17:23
wow ..perfect answer –  V4Vendetta Aug 1 '11 at 6:09
Yes, this might be a mild form of workplace bullying, if they see it doesnt affect you they may well stop doing it –  Binary Worrier Aug 5 '11 at 10:14

I think this depends on how much workplace experience you have. If you have under 2 years of working experience then perhaps they are grooming you for better things or trialing you for more responsibility.

If not then they are likely threatened by you. Sometimes a person who creates an illusion of competency at a company feels threatened by truly competent people so rather than better themselves and their skill sets they try to stomp on others to make them look bad. If this is the case then don't sink to their level and maintain a professional attitude and demonstrate yourself through your hard work but don't let ANYBODY take credit for your hard work.

One of the most egotistical self-deluded and hilariously incompetent programmers I have ever worked with was a Security Expert (Hacker). He maintained that he was a God of PHP but couldn't even code a simple HTML form.

If your manager is in on it too then perhaps it is the first situation I described though.

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I have already had the experience of a person condemning a piece of difficult coding that I did at every possible chance, even though I was told that I "saved the day" with this same code. –  Jburrito Jul 31 '11 at 20:14

If it really is a kind of teasing or bullying, the worst things you can do are (1) overreact, either by being angry or upset, and (2) passively accept it. Watch some of those prank TV shows - almost any reaction to an attempted mockery is commonly seen as "funny", including a non-reaction. In general, a deliberate non-reaction seems to even be a kind a challenge.

About the only "winning" reaction is to smile and acknowledge it as a good joke, no matter how pointless and tedious it was.

If it's not bullying, it should be valid for you to reciprocate. This includes teasing - if it's not valid to reciprocate, then it's not "just teasing".

So... prepare a set of interview-style questions of your own. And when they ask you an interview question, follow up with one of yours. If they do this a lot, do the same - put individual coworkers on the spot at a time of your choosing. If they don't like that, say something like "what's good for the goose".

If it really is "teasing", as in joking among (potential) friends, you've passed the test. You've shown that you can take a joke and have a sense of humour, and that you can give as good as you get without overreacting. You've joined in with a group activity and adopted a social norm (sorry - I've read too many social psychology books). You can all have a laugh about how good/bad you are at interview questions, then move on to the next level of friendship-building.

If your reaction is to complain, you're not just rejecting a very common social behaviour pattern, you're also rejecting the people and the invitation to join the group.

If they're trying to find a way to make you feel stupid, the risk of making themselves look stupid should probably make them try to laugh it off and back down - make out that it was nothing to worry about and stop it. Let them save face, and be happy that it's over.

But of course there's always the risk that they will then get upset and/or angry, overreact and escalate the whole thing.

If that happens, you could (depending on local laws) make sure you've got evidence for some kind of workplace bullying or constructive dismissal case, but the best option would probably be to move on.

Yes - I have had to think this through too much. It comes with having Aspergers.

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I feel that responding with grilling them will make them incredulous if they are testing him for more responsibility, or if they are feeling inadequate by him then this will make them feel even more threatened than before, potentially escalating the problem. –  maple_shaft Jul 31 '11 at 14:52
@maple_shaft - if they have any social skills themselves, they should see why he is reciprocating, and explain why they're testing him all the time. This doesn't read like something they've been doing for a couple of weeks prior to assigning some new responsibility - it reads like a sustained pattern which (if the motivation is what you claim) deserves an explanation. BTW - I have given +1 to your answer. –  Steve314 Jul 31 '11 at 14:58
And I +1 your comment. You are right of course about them potentially not having any social skills but then I have learned first hand just how childish and petty people can be in the office. The peacekeeper will try to be as non-confrontational as possible but the peacemaker will challenge back and force an understanding, a much braver route. I +1 your comment. –  maple_shaft Jul 31 '11 at 15:54
@maple_shaft - Also, the way you phrase it will make a big difference to how it is percieved. For instance "That's a great brain teaser, I found another good one the other day, want to hear it?" would be better than "If you think that's difficult, you'll never be able to solve this one...". –  Mark Booth Aug 2 '11 at 10:44

As the manager is in on this, I guess you cannot simply ask the manager to make people to stop.

Hence I would suggest that whenever you are asked such things that you ask for details of the scenario they need this for. Either the need is legitimate and you have sped up the process, or it is just "for fun" and you reversed the "joke".

Go as far as you need asking for project relevant details, including where to bill your time spent on these things, and this will quickly go away.

Be very professional and treat them accordingly.

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There's also the "is this good for the company?" approach. A bit patronizing, but when asked such a question, you can answer:

We can discuss this at length, and I'd be glad to, but I'm getting paid to program, and I don't see how answering your question benefits the company. Unless you need guidance, in which case I'll be glad to help.

Something along those lines. There's very little that can be said against a "good for the company" argument, unless they really want to get into an argument.

Just remember to always keep your cool. They're testing you, in more ways than one. Be excellent towards them, as Bill and Ted would say.

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  • Let them sign a NDA before you accept to answer any non job related questions.

  • Answer any question with: "This would require lambda stuff, so you wouldn't understand the answer anyway"

  • Demand payment (minimum rate is on hour)

In short: Show them that they are boring and don't accept to play the game to their rules by changing the rules arbitrarily. (Make it a mental Calvin Ball if you heard of this game)

Edit: Whoever downvoted this: It may sound funny (intentional), but I'm quite serious about it. Making funny comments instead of openly confronting somebody or asking the manager for help is a strategy that works without creating tension between colleagues. They have a chance to back out of the situation without 'loosing'. Nobody needs to explain himself and they still get a very clear message: It's enough.

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In short, it may simply be that you’ve helped to establish a pattern that the rest of the team is simply following. You will have to first figure out why the behavior is occurring and then how to best assert yourself to change the behavior. Without understanding why, you may overreact and have the situation blow up in your face.

Assertiveness: Keep in mind the take-no-shit subset of “Strong Black Women” (smaller subset, not entire race, relax). By this I mean, we’ve all met people who have the ability to let others know very quickly what boundaries exist. “I don’t discuss my personal life.”, “Don’t talk down to me.”, “Don’t yell at me.”, etc. The boundaries are different for different people. Some people are better than others at conveying acceptable behavior. Those who send out mixed messages, while still often victims, are in large part responsible for the situations they find themselves.

The key here is those who establish how they expect to be treated when they meet people, avoid much of the type of problems you’re indicating. Also, trying to retrain others when they’ve established the patterns of how they treat you is far more problematic.

I find it helpful to publically acknowledge that I am letting something slide or allowing a behavior because I’m new. Something as subtle as, “I appreciate you being overly thorough while I’m new.”, or “Get your digs in on the new guy while you can.” all help establish that in the future this behavior won’t be as tolerated. It also, in my experience, helps me avoid having to have a meeting asking their permission to be treated like an adult. Instead of having a meeting and asking them to treat me differently, I simply inform them of my changed status (not new guy) and then the burden is on them to justify why they feel they can continue the behavior.

Not being assertive can lead to becoming the villain or even worse, becoming shark bait. Some groups need a villain and if no villain exists, they must invent one. They band around destroying that person and then once that person is gone, they have to find the new villain. Another version of this is the group killing off those people viewed as being too weak (shark bait). This most of us saw in schools, where the most weak were constantly attacked, often by those almost as weak (at least you beat up someone).

All in all, for better advice we’d need more details along the line of: Have you often failed their ‘tests’? Was there a probationary period? Are other workers overseeing your efforts? Do other workers evaluate you? Are you perceived as inexperienced (are they perceived as wise and grizzled)? What’s the size of the team? Does the manager hire and fire, or simply recommend? Is the manager approachable?

Often you can discourage others by making them do more work (don’t make it easy for them to continue the behavior). Make it take effort for others to be a jerk to you, even if that effort is only that they have to ask you about it again at a later point. “We can talk about that later.”, “Not now, I’m thinking about another problem.”, “Ask me after my coffee.”, etc.

Talk is cheap. I used to be quite active in a non-profit organization. One where people constantly wanted to provide input during events, but one where those same people rarely, if ever, wanted to work implement their ideas. By far the easiest method to stop this behavior was about 10 little words. Sounds great! “Please, write up that idea and send it to me.” The great majority of the time the person never followed though. ‘Put it in writing’ actually became a joke within the management team.

Monkey management.

Many managers feel overwhelmed. They have too many problems--too many monkeys--on their backs. All too often, they say, they find themselves running out of time while their subordinates are running out of work. Such is the common phenomenon described by the late William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass in this 1974 HBR classic. They tell the engaging story of an overburdened manager who has unwittingly taken on all of his subordinates' problems. If, for example, an employee has a problem and the manager says, "Let me think about that and get back to you," the monkey has just leaped from the subordinate's back to the manager's. This article describes how the manager can delegate effectively to keep most monkeys on the subordinate's back.

One takeaway from this is to be constantly aware of those who are out to either dump their work (monkies) on you, or simply to increase your workload unreasonably. When they approach you to give you a monkey, either refuse the monkey, exchange the monkey, or some such, but you have to make it so they consciously realized you’re not their free monkey day care, else they’ll just continue to dump (monkies) on you.

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If a boss tends to take too much on, that doesn't mean his subordinates are dumping their work on him - odds are good that many will learn to do just that, but only because he's inviting it. There's can be a case for subordinates managing their managers, and a big part of that is just an aspect of doing your job - knowing how and when to deal with problems yourself, how and when to inform management that the problem exists without requesting help, etc. But if the manager gets overwhelmed a lot - well, he is the manager, and it's ultimately his (and his superiors) responsibility to fix that. –  Steve314 Aug 1 '11 at 4:16
Monkey management is not about all work situations, only specific ones. There are individuals who try to get others to do their work for them. Some are quite skilled at this. While the quote is looking at this from a management perspective, it can, as I am doing, be looked at from an employee perspective. Making sure the people are not giving you extra work you don’t need to be doing is a valuable job skill. My point was that no employee has to assume every request to do more work is valid. –  user179700 Aug 1 '11 at 5:00

I would probably not assume anything bad from this--My first thought would be that this is what they do for fun at work (I quite enjoy interview-style problems and used to trade with people at work).

Perhaps they only ask you because they have already quizzed each other to the point where they can't come up with any good ones for each other.

My response would probably be to answer cheerfully then come up with a challenging problem for them in response. Their reaction to your problem should give you a better idea as to their motivation as well.

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Take it as a challenge.

Be grateful that your co-workers constantly push limits of your knowledge.

(and if a poor programmer asks you - take it as a opportunity to politely teach him and earn his respect).

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