Requests from Strangers

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Question: I got an email from a group at Corporate that I’ve never heard of, asking if we can help on their project. It looks kinda interesting!

Answer:
Respond that they should communicate all requests directly to your manager, and CC: the rest of Tech Pubs on your response.

With polite requests, I used to try to talk to the requestor to get some background, but that just raises their hopes and the answer is almost certain to be “No, sorry, that’s not our job.” Very un-collegial, and I’m sorry for that. (If they’re not polite, see the other posts about chains of fools.)

A complicating factor is Corporate’s policy on using contract help, which is never to do it. So, if some department somewhere has a short-term need, they are pretty much stuck doing it themselves, or going without. This has led to some very sub-optimal, makeshift approaches that emphasize expediency over viability. Sometimes it puts people in an impossible position, where they can’t achieve key goals. That just doesn’t make sense.

The “in-house only” policy doesn’t work so well for tasks requiring specialized skills. Corporate did not recognize documentation as requiring any special skill set, so anyone should be able to figure it out and do it themselves, right? They wouldn’t try this with structural engineering or legal.

It can also be hard to figure out everyone’s roles or even where they are. At Corporate there were not just one, but several software groups, all reporting up through different channels. Some were products of acquisitions. You won’t be of much real help to them if you can’t understand the background and frankly there’s no time to understand anything that’s not specifically assigned to you. Curiosity killed the cat!

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