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Ask Slashdot: How To (or How NOT To) Train Your Job Replacement? 292

Posted by Soulskill
from the make-sure-he-understands-snipe-tags dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I am a contract developer from a major U.S. city. My rate has never been the lowest, but it's nonetheless very competitive considering the speed and quality of the work I have always delivered, as well as the positive feedback I've received from most clients. In the past ~3 years, I have been working on a sizable project for a major client. For the most part it has been a happy arrangement for both parties. However, for various reasons (including the still ailing economy), starting this year they hired a fresh college graduate in-house, and asked me to teach him all 'secrets' of my code, even though they have the source code by contract. The implicit (although never openly stated) goal is of course for him to take over the project and hopefully reduce cost, at least in the short-term. I say 'hopefully' because I am pretty sure that, because they are unfamiliar with the software industry, they underestimated what it takes to make quality, production-ready code. I am not afraid of losing this particular client, as I have many others, but I want to ask Slashdot: how do you handle this type of situation — training someone whom you know will eventually replace you at your job?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To (or How NOT To) Train Your Job Replacement?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:55PM (#43217453)

    Give him the source code. Have him go over it. If he has any specific questions, answer then succinctly and accurately. But keep in mind that as a contractor you have no obligation to share any of your coding "secrets" with anyone, or teach anyone else how to code. Don't let your ego and desire to brag about how clever your coding solutions are make you forget that you are under no obligation to train anyone to take your place (no matter how much junior may flatter you).

    You've given them the deliverables, you've presumably fulfilled your contract. Nowhere in said contract does it say anything about training other coders, I presume. Be professional and polite (don't refuse to answer questions they have about the code, for example). But also be firm about the limitations of your contract (it doesn't include answering questions like "Hey, can you teach me how to do this neat trick like you did?" and "Can you teach me how to do good memory management?").

  • Be cooperative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kawabago (551139) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:59PM (#43217515)
    They will probably need you back when the newbie crashes and burns.
  • by geekboybt (866398) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:00PM (#43217521)

    While I agree mostly with what you've said, keep in mind that, as a contractor, he's been asked to provide a different service, to train the new guy, and is being compensated as both parties deem appropriate. I completely agree that the submitter shouldn't work for free, but if he's amicable to this agreement (as he appears to be) then there's no reason he can't continue. He's made his objections about hiring a newbie to do it, but it's their code to do with as they please.

  • You train them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:01PM (#43217541)

    I am always in-favor of being a trusted agent. This way you might get a lead on the next contract as someone who can be trusted.

  • by Dareth (47614) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:02PM (#43217555)

    If you actually are willing to take on the job, then I would suggest you let the new developer lead the training. See if the new person is self motivated and willing to learn. Guide the conversation where it needs to go, but make the new developer do the homework and show they got the prerequisites.

  • by rebill (87977) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:02PM (#43217559) Journal

    My primary goal as a contractor is to "put myself out of a job". It can be scary to let go of an existing income stream, but no job is a guarantee. If I walk out of a site with a happy customer, they have an incentive to hire me back ... and I get to work on something new (to me), rather than being stuck maintaining the same code for years.

    There are risks, but if your replacement flames out, they can always come back to you, later.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:04PM (#43217577)

    Your reputation is worth more than your ego. Be kind, be polite, and helpful ... to a point. Make a 30/60/90 day 'grace period' to answer "hey, can you remind me..." questions. Do this via email so it's all documented - use the excuse of "this way, you have it for reference".

    You don't need to bend over backwards for your 'replacement', but as a contractor, your reputation and network are paramount.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:05PM (#43217595)

    Basically, be a professional, be pleasant, do what you are obligated to do, but don't volunteer to go further.

    Sounds about right.

    If someone is replacing you, they can figure the "beyond obligations" stuff out for themselves.

  • by the_B0fh (208483) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:07PM (#43217615) Homepage

    Geek boy has it right. You don't have to train him in comp sci, but showing him the ropes about the app is within scope.

  • by concealment (2447304) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:10PM (#43217661) Homepage Journal

    You're on a per-hour, right?

    You're going to walk him through the code; answer questions; answer the phone; bill a minimum for each. This is just good consultant practice. After that, you're on a per-hour basis to fix what he can't. No problem there, because these are the conditions under which you formed the contract.

    However, you might want to pitch the writing of some documentation so he has a roadmap to your code and a description of how each (major) function/routine works. That's more hours for you, and less helplessness for him; this is important because when you're on another contract, you really don't want to take a couple hours out to put out fires at a dead-end gig (for you).

  • by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:11PM (#43217673)

    You do it well. You've obviously already determined that they're planning on cutting costs by getting an in-house developer to take over, and I'm assuming you know that means they're not planning on keeping you on that particular project forever. So rather than doing a half-assed job and leaving the newly-minted dev with the codebase, a handshake, and "good luck!" do them a favor and help them learn everything they should know to do a great job. You really have nothing to lose by training the new guy well; you've got other clients lined up, if you do a good job this client may have you come back in the future (when the economy has more fully recovered) and do more work for them, and you'll have built another relationship with a developer who remember that you took the time to help them out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:11PM (#43217685)

    +1

    Another way to look at this: Your value to the client goes up a huge amount when you're no longer a liability.

    I begin documenting my projects for the inevitable client take-over as soon as possible, and the hand-off process is great all around.

    I am almost always kept around as a senior resource ( this is more fun ) or as someone to escalate to, but when I'm not, I consider it a job well done and move on.

    Not being able to move on, update skills, etc is the kiss of death in tech consulting. Fear the golden handcuffs, not the young replacement.

  • Be a Professional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:12PM (#43217697)

    Your a contractor. You should have lots of business ahead of you if you try and be professional with each and every client. Teach these developers as well as you can and to the best of your ability. (Unless you dislike training others enough you don't even have a rate you'd be willing to charge...) The people you have done business with in the past will likely want to do business with you again if you are professional and priced correctly. This includes the developers you train. They may end up wanting to hire you when they are in another job later.

    Don't be a jerk. Be honest with your customers, too. If the developers have limitations try and express what they will be able to do well without over selling them.

  • A few thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:12PM (#43217703)

    If you can't be replaced you can't be promoted. If you can't be replaced you can't move on to something better without hurting your client. If your hurt your client by your leaving you will be remembered in a bad way.

  • Re:As a contractor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:13PM (#43217715)

    This can be categorized into 'how to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs'.

    Developers get fired all the time - and yes the company, the manager, the new developer will all go through a period of fighting fires. But you will never be irreplaceable. At the end of the day, they dont wanna keep paying $100/hr for ever, they will hire a $80K developer for sure.

    If you are good and try your best to at least give the new developer some idea of how to do things, they may call you back for other business. Otherwise, they will remember you for screwing them over. IT industry is a big world, but slowly reputation does travel.

    So tell them how much time it will take in addition to what you have allocated for development, and then copy the development manager and send the developer the docs & source code and ask him to ask you questions anytime. Set aside some time for one-on-one meetings to help him understand the code if possible. Keeping the development manager in the loop about training is probably the most important part of this deal.

  • by MillerHighLife21 (876240) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:14PM (#43217735) Homepage

    Totally agree. I've always gone into projects with the goal of automating things (right down to outage buffering, failover, etc) to the point that they don't need me anymore. I take it as a point of pride and my work reflects it.

    If you're taking any other approach, namely one that will force your client to remain attached to you I'd have to question your ethics, motive, and ability because what you're doing is creating a dependence on you that is borderline blackmail (if that's something you're doing).

    So to the original question, help with a smile on your face, show him how the more complex pieces of the code work, document where possible and generally make sure that the tools are there for the project to continue to go on without you. They're either going to recommend you to other people because of how professionally you handled the transition and what a good job they did or they're going to be calling you back shortly when new guy isn't delivering at the rate you did. Drop off a copy of Mythical Man Month when you leave. Just leave it laying around the office somewhere. :-)

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:20PM (#43217829) Journal
    It's a shame this is at 0, because it's exactly what I would say. If it's a major client finishing up a piece of work, you want them to consider you for future pieces of work, and that includes building their next system, or extending this one when it's beyond the ability of the person that they've hired to maintain it. And even if this customer never needs more work from you, people move between companies, and you want them to think, next time they embark on a big project, 'at my last company, we had this really great consultant who shipped us working code and then trained our in-house staff to maintain it. We should see if he's available'.
  • by SpaceMonkies (2868125) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:21PM (#43217837)
    Your reputation is worth more than your ego. Be kind, be polite, and helpful ... to a point. Make a 30/60/90 day 'grace period' to answer "hey, can you remind me..." questions. Do this via email so it's all documented - use the excuse of "this way, you have it for reference". You don't need to bend over backwards for your 'replacement', but as a contractor, your reputation and network are paramount.
  • by eth1 (94901) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:22PM (#43217847)

    While I agree mostly with what you've said, keep in mind that, as a contractor, he's been asked to provide a different service, to train the new guy, and is being compensated as both parties deem appropriate. I completely agree that the submitter shouldn't work for free, but if he's amicable to this agreement (as he appears to be) then there's no reason he can't continue. He's made his objections about hiring a newbie to do it, but it's their code to do with as they please.

    Yeah, if you're getting paid to teach him your code, why not? Also, if, as you seem to think, they've bitten off more than they can chew, you might end up getting paid to teach him, then keep the contract anyway, when they realize it's not going to work. That might not happen if you just shove the code at them and leave.

  • Re:You train them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:22PM (#43217851)

    It might even get you more contracts at the same place, despite their intent to replace you. There are pretty good odds that at some point in the future, the person you trained is going to run into some problem where they'd love to get your input on it. Unless the system is quite simple and exceptionally well documented, that's almost inevitable. So there's a good chance the company will want to pay you a nice consulting rate for some hours in the future, regardless of what they think their plan is. And if the person you train was happy with your mentorship, they'll be a good internal advocate for steering those contracts your way.

  • by VAXcat (674775) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:33PM (#43217987)
    And, if you're friendly about it all, you can count on years of providing support to the new guy, which should bring in a lot of money.
  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:34PM (#43217991) Homepage

    If they want you to train employees instead of just code, you should insist on a new contract and negotiate a much higher rate.

  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:36PM (#43218005)

    Can't agree with this more. We had a similar experience withinmy company when a lot of the in-house support and dev guys were replaced with (much) cheaper contractors. They did the entire handover nicely, showed the new guys the ropes and moved into other roles or other companies. The new contractors of course are giving the quality of service as is being paid for - so many of our systems are suffering constant delays, SLAs are being missed and there is a strong push from within the business side to re-hire some of the folks that were let go. Of course, now to get them back, the salaries will have to be extra competitive as we want those exact folks back.

    Sometimes cheaper is not really cheaper. I would say do a great job of handing over the project as best you can, let the new guy take the reigns. If it works out, great, if not, the company will probably want you back in short order anyhow. You can even look at it as an opportunity. Why not offer to stay on with a retainer, let the new guy handle all the gruntwork, but offer to explain or guide him/her for an hourly fee if needed. Assuming the do improve over time, you will be able to work in a new company at your normal rate and still get a small fee from this older company.

  • High road (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Concern (819622) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:48PM (#43218137) Journal

    I don't agree that you should get legalistic about what is and isn't in your contract. If you're writing software, answering questions about it and helping others understand it is part of the basic standards and practices of the profession. If you're a contractor, training up internal resources to take over your project is totally ordinary.

    They've been a client for years. Take good care of them. If they want to move the role full-time, in-house, that's a good growth step for them.

    If you're the kind of contractor who's hostile to that, and looking for ways to resist and debating what's in your contract, or being unprofessional when it comes to transitioning your role, expect not to be welcomed back, and don't look for them to give a glowing reference.

    If you act like a pro, and take good care of them, then you're helping your reputation and chances for future work.

  • Watch out (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .etreufamla.> on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @05:57PM (#43218219)

    You might get lucky, but here is my experience with this issue:

      - You act nicely, and teach the noob the "secrets" of your code
      - You go away, the noob didn't understand shit, he gets lost.
      - He eventually will either screw up big time, or just fail to produce new deliverables
      - He gets pushed, blames you (he'll either say your code sucks, or he'll say you are keeping "secrets", or in any other way trying to protect your job by preventing him from doing his.

    You'll end up forced to tell the customer to STFU and GTFO, or you'll be doing work for free.

    My recommendation:

    If you have fully documented the code (both inside the code, and in a standalone documentation that explains everything from coding style to APIs), tell the customer everything any competent coder might need is in the docs, and remain available for any specific questions the coder might have, under a pre-arranged hourly rate.

    If your product hasn't been fully documented, send them a quote for full documentation, and go back to the previous stage.

  • As a contractor you bring your knowledge and experience, and the skills you have derived from that knowledge and the wisdom you have derived from that experience, to your client.

    You can only teach your client's employee some of the knowledge that you have acquired. You cannot teach him your skills, in the same way you cannot teach someone new to bicycling how not fall over. He can only acquire skills through his own experience. Similarly, you cannot teach your wisdom; like skills, that is not transferable between human beings.

    You and your client need to be clear about the limitations involved in this situation. Probably you need to be talking about a different kind of contract with the client, where the employee will be doing some of the heavy lifting that you now do while he begins to gain experience, but you will continue to provide the experience and wisdom that avoids costly mistakes. This would be similar to a traditional master - apprentice approach, but with a third party (the employer) paying the apprentice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @06:34PM (#43218455)

    You're a contractor. Make a new contract.

    You're obviously not going to do this for free, so approach it like any of your other services for hire. Work out how much time they want to dedicate to it or just get the to agree to a suitably high hourly rate for your new services, which are now essentially tier 2 support. Be sure to include enough of a 'get out free' clause so that if the new guy rips the code/configuration/hardware to shreds, you're not obligated to clean up his mess. Then just rake it in.

  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintiumNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @07:15PM (#43218807)

    I disagree. If they are entering into an agreement that includes training he is indeed needing to "train him in comp sci". The article doesn't mention that there was a written agreement; but, if the customer is verbally specifying the desire for training there is an oral agreement. They both should take the time to write down specifically what needs to be done. It has been my experience both are going to end up very unhappy if they do not.

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