Don’t be afraid to ask questions

This is a guest blog post from Noel Worden. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can be stressful and humbling to reach out and ask a question, but it can be the best way to stop spinning your wheels and make progress. It’s stressful because as a new developer you are trying to prove yourself to your peers and superiors. It’s humbling because you are admitting to someone that you don’t know something. Giving consideration to when and how you ask a question can make for a much smoother interaction.

So, how long should you grind away at a problem before you concede and reach out for assistance?  That can be a tough call, and can differ quite a bit based on your situation. Some aspects to consider are:

  • Is this meant to be a learning experience?
    • If so, you’ll want to spend more time looking for the answer before reaching out to anyone
  • How long do you have to complete the task?
    • The more time you have before the task is due, the more time you should spend looking for the answer yourself
  • How busy is the rest of your team and/or your mentor?
    • If no one has the time to help you unfortunately don’t have many options other than to stick it out and try to find the solution yourself until you see an opportunity to ask for help
  • Is the sticking point something relatively ‘small’ and holding you up from the bigger task?
    • Is it something like a bug in the project setup, or a hangup of a similar nature, that doesn’t have anything directly to do with the task? These types of hangups can be difficult to Google, or solve by experimentation, and are scenarios where asking for help earlier than later is probably a good idea.
  • Have you worked through other aspects of the task?
    • Sometimes skipping over the sticking point and working on other pieces can lead to an ‘aha moment’.
    • It can also help to gather multiple questions and therefore get multiple answers from one help session.

Once you’ve decided to reach out for help, the phrasing of the question can be important. When I ask a question I often try to go over what I’ve already tried, what I’ve Googled, and then what exactly is stumping me. This shows that I’ve made a solid effort to solve it myself, gives the other person as much context as possible, and helps avoid the person giving you assistance to not repeat the same unsuccessful troubleshooting attempts.

Most importantly, above all else, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone was a new developer at one point in their career, and asking questions is a legitimate way to learn.

Sincerely,

Noel

Noel Worden started his career as a photographer, shifted gears to become a cabinetmaker, then graduated from the coding bootcamp Bloc. He is currently working as a software engineer for MojoTech in Boulder, Colorado.

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