How to ask for help from a Senior Developer (and get it)

I struggle with asking for help in both directions. I often ask too early (when I should have googled it) and I also ask too late (I spin my wheels for 8hrs when a 5 min call would have unstuck me)

After much struggle here’s my general strategy.

  1. Don’t ask if I haven’t worked on it for more than 30 min.
  2. Be certain to ask before it climbs to 60 min.
  3. Search for the answer – and – make sure to try variations on the search term.
  4. Isolate the problem to as small of a code snippet as possible
  5. State your problem as clearly and concisely as possible (this is also called rubber ducking)
    1. what you expect to get vs reality
    2. what you have tried
    3. alternatives you have ruled out
  6. Figure out the best person (not the easiest) to help you solve this problem.
  7. Double check everything.
  8. Make sure they are free and willing to answer a question, and ask away!
  9. Make sure you fully understand the answer before saying “Thank you.”
  10. Write down what the problem was so that you don’t have to ask again.

Becoming “good” at asking questions is as much a senior engineer talent as being able to answer them. Everyone wants to answer a question, and by making it as easy as possible for them you are setting both sides up for success. I also find that merely starting the process above often results in me finding a flaw in my logic, or a search result that I had previously overlooked.

Learning how to ask for help from a Senior Developer can really strengthen your self-reliance because knowing that the answer is only 7 steps away can give you great confidence to keep trying.

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