When to Ask for Help

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In this article, I share personal tips on when and how to ask for help.

'people helping each other'

Photo by Jametlene Reskp

No one knows it all. No developer knows everything about software development. That is why we keep trying to learn. That is why we keep reading articles, studying books and building things. We are all in this endless journey of knowledge. We all seek to improve our knowledge and we sometimes forget things we already know. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck.

We need each other as developers. Sometimes we need to ask for help. You might be trying new technology, learning a new language or framework. Maybe you just joined a new company. Maybe you are working on a task that you have never done before. In these scenarios, we might get stuck and might need the help of others.

While it is important to ask for help, it also important to know the right time to ask to help.

Asking too early and asking too late both have disadvantages. Let us discuss some of them.

When You Ask Too Early

When you ask for help too early, you might be denying yourself the fine opportunity of learning how to debug and fix your problems. True, you might get your problems fixed faster. However, being able to debug a bug is a great skill every developer needs to have.

Have you also noticed that you learn a lot when trying to fix a bug? Think about the StackOverflow posts you go through, articles you read and sometimes the documentation you read just to fix the bug. All of these increase your knowledge in one way or the other.

You might be seen as a pest by your colleagues if you run to them every time you have a bug. They also have their own tasks they are trying to work on. When you regularly meet them for help, it slows them down. Even when they always help, they might do that grudgingly.

When You Ask Too Late

When you have a bug and you ask too late, you might be seen as unproductive.

You might also be wasting valuable time on a bug that could have been solved easily by a colleague or someone else.

The watchword here is to be balanced. So when is the right time to ask to for? Well, it is relative. It depends on what you've done to solve your problem. Let us consider some things you can do before you ask for help.

Before you Ask for Help

Before you ask others for help, here are some things you can do.

  1. Try to identify and understand the problem. Read the error messages. Error messages can help you identify the cause of your bug.

  2. Brainstorm, think of possible solutions to your bug and try them. One might just be the right solution.

  3. If the language, library or framework you are using has good documentation and possibly a forum, try to go through it. You might be facing the bug because you do not have a deep understanding of the technology you are using.

  4. Search for a solution online. Google is your best friend. It is possible that someone had such a bug before and has asked for help on platforms like StackOverflow. Go through the replies you find there. Sometimes the best reply might not be the solution to your problem. Other replies might also contain valuable information that can help you.

Now that you have done all you can do and still not fixed it, you clearly need help.

How to Ask for Help

  1. Determine the best teammate to ask. It can be someone that is currently working on the same project with you or has done something similar. It can also be a Senior developer or someone who has more or even the same level of experience as you. Sometimes, just talking through a problem with someone else can help you fix it faster.

  2. Find a convenient time to meet the person for help. Remember your teammates also have their tasks and might be working on them. Randomly asking for help may disrupt their flow of thought. So asking them if they are available to talk to you is the ideal thing to do. That way, if they are busy, they can make out time later to talk.

  3. When it is time to talk, take time to explain the problem to them and the steps you've taken to solve it. Also, share the solutions you have tried and why these solutions did not fix the bug. This can help your teammate to eliminate wrong ideas and get to the solution faster.

  4. Be patient, your teammate might not immediately know the solution to the problem and might need to debug it with you. Do not assume that a teammate because of his senior position knows everything.

  5. Do not always expect your teammate to fix the bug. Sometimes, you might be referred to a resource that can help you with your bug or even to another teammate. This does not mean the teammate does not want to help you. It is possible that he or she identified that you need more understanding of some topics. It is also possible that he/she personally is not able to fix the bug.

  6. Be grateful and show appreciation. The person that took time to help might have spent it working on his own tasks. Therefore, remember to always say thank you.

Conclusion

It is important to know when and how to ask for help. The tips shared in this article can help you do so.
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