Asking for Help aka Eating your Ego or Beginner's Mind is the Road to Satori
In the bootcamp experience one of the most telling differences between folks excelling and the folks struggling is the ability to ask for help in a timely way. It's an imperative skill in developing and for life in general. It also has predictable roadblocks that are built into the human psyche. Many folks find asking for help to be one of the most difficult professional and personal skills to master. It's certainly among my most limiting personal challenges, but I'm getting sooooooooo many opportunities to work on it right now. And I'm getting better all the time.
Please comment below with any things you do to remind yourself that asking questions is okay.
When a person asks for help they're expressly exposing that they don't have whatever it is that they need to accomplish their goals on their own. And while we all know this to be a categorically true statement in the abstract, it becomes more difficult to share our own personal vulnerabilities and gaps in knowledge. In a professional setting, this immediately goes along with the possibility of being judged as a 'bad hire' or someone who doesn't have an appropriate work ethic or culture fit.
An ask for help can have a lot of layered meaning, "RTFM", "STFW", "That's so basic, it's not even worth answering.", or even, "You don't know that already? Seriously?", with a sneer can shut a person down pretty quickly if they don't already have a significant level of self esteem and confidence already.
Admitting that I don't have the tools or know how to solve a problem has always had a lot of shame attached to it in my family. Anyone who was in the unfortunate position of being ignorant was aggressively derided while the more knowledgeable party had an opportunity to 'teach'. Another common response to being asked a question was to ignore it and reject the asker. I know that I'm not alone in this experience of being made fun of or to feel like not knowing something was a personal failing. These particular ways of working with ignorance are some of the least helpful and most decisive ways to get people to hide their lack of facility on a subject.
I think it's a particularly difficult skillset for women entering into the notably gendered field of software development or computer science.
I can't even get through one google search for "women in tech" without running across articles about gender discrimination and Anita Sarkeesian's experiences during GamerGate. So many of us are coming into the field with a loaded sense of having to prove ourselves in a hostile environment. The sense of being able to ask questions is completely undermined when there is no sense of inclusion to the team.
All this being said, I've pulled together a list of the most helpful books, articles, and thoughts I've gleaned during my bootcamp experience. I hope that you can relate and take away some information about how to ask better questions and be a more approachable team mate or teacher.
As a beginner in anything you have the right to be unfamiliar with the topic at hand. It is your right, as a person who is learning, not to know yet. As the participant in a coding school, bootcamp, or meetup- you have the right to ask questions and expect a constructive answer. This here was probably the most difficult for me to fully embrace, but give yourself a break and remember- it's not all that personal-- let yourself revel in not knowing while you learn.
As a student, you are literally paying for the right to ask and get answers and to keep asking until they make sense to you. Do not feel guilty for asking to have it explained again.
It's your responsibility to do something with the answers you get and to creatively apply them to your learning. But there's no glory in figuring something out for yourself when your desk partner would have gladly lead you to the solution an hour ago.
How to ask a question:
-assume good will and that you deserve to ask and have your question answered
-be as specific as you can about your problem and desired outcome
-ask people to help you individually, by name
-don't give up until you actually have an improved understanding
-let people feel good about helping you
-be willing to hear "no, I can't help you with that"
Drawbacks for you:
-feeling exposed as lacking skill
-fears of being judged
-fear of rejection
-developing a reputation for incompetence
-guilt in diverting resources to yourself
Benefits for you:
-actually learning and building your confidence
-developing a team mentality
-refining your skills quickly
-having an opportunity to make real connections with teachers and team mates
How to Offer Good Help
-understand the asker's perspective and level
-clarify the question
-encourage them to talk through the problem
-build a rapport
How to Offer help Poorly
-scoff, minimize, or otherwise belittle or evade the question
-allow your body language to convey your irritation
-jump in without finding out if your help is going to be helpful
-be 'helpy', don't get a clear picture of the end goal
Weird ways to ask---What to avoid at all costs.
-apologizing too much
-minimizing the ask
-un clear asks
-diffuse asks, not to a specific person
Stronger cohesion of the group, better understanding, shared skills, ability to mentor and teach, positive feelings associated with helping. Better teams with more personal investment in one another and a culture that encourages questions and solution finding as a foundation for success.
Heidi Grant PhD
Dr. Carol Dweck
Specific to asking technical questions online
How to Ask for Help Without Seeming Lazy
How To Ask Questions The Smart Way
Eric Steven Raymond