Knowing when to ask for help
Building software systems is complex. Nobody knows all the answers. Don’t be afraid to ask!
We work in collaborative multi-disciplinary teams so that we can combine our diverse skills and knowledge. Even very experienced people rely on input from others. There’s no shame in asking if you’re not sure about something, if you didn’t understand or if you want a second opinion.
It’s usually better to ask for help than to struggle away on your own trying to figure something out.
Asking for help can be hard, especially if you’re new and perhaps experiencing imposter syndrome.
What is it?
Knowing when and how to ask for help. Developing a growth mindset that recognises that we learn from failure and feedback.
How do I learn/get good at it?
Practice! Ask questions! But also reflect upon how effective your question-asking has been. Perhaps you need to do some research first? Maybe it’s better to put your question in writing and then talk it through? Are you a visual person, do diagrams help? Do you need to reproduce or isolate a problem so that you can show it to someone else?
When asking questions, be sure to provide context about what you are trying to do, not just the problems you encountered when trying to solve it yourself (AKA the X-Y problem).
You’ll usually be given well defined tasks to work on, with support from a more experienced developer. Discuss the work with your colleague and try to understand what’s involved.
The person you’re working with will give you guidance and you can ask questions as you go along. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so don’t be afraid to ask!
At a mid level, you will be working more independently, or taking a lead in pairing situations. You should start to develop a better sense of when to ask for input, perhaps from other disciplines such as operations, design. You might need to call a meeting with several people to get more structured input. You’ll think about how to explain the problem to others in a way that they can input effectively. You’ll think ahead of time about different options, and their pros- and cons- so that you can make the most effective use of other people’s expertise.
At senior level, you can build a culture of asking questions by setting a good example.
For example, if you notice people using acronyms or jargon that not everyone knows about, ask them what it means! Often we use jargon without even realising it, and somebody pointing it out provides an opportunity to better introduce the technology or concept to people who might not be familiar with it.