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How can I overcome unnecessary nerves when asking for help and gain mature technical thinking after completing POC?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Series F Startupa year ago

Recently I completed my first-ever proof of concept (POC). I got positive feedback, but I think it's because the manager understands that I am doing this independently for the first time. After giving credit for my work, one senior member broke down the task into smaller pieces with step-by-step technical sources (from blogs), which made my life much easier. Now when I am re-evaluating this now, I observe the following:

  • I tried not to bother senior/TL for help since I didn't want to interrupt their sprint commitment. Even though they are supportive, I couldn't help but feel nervous because I am the engineer with the least experience (i.e., others are either senior or principal level or the same level but have a much broader knowledge domain).
  • After receiving the breakdown plan with the easy-to-follow resources, I am much more comfortable tackling the tasks. If possible, I very much want to be able to break down a bigger POC into smaller pieces and tackle each in order.

Since it's likely to have more POC shortly, and I am sure I will face this situation, I want to overcome the nerve and ask the right amount of questions (not too much, but good enough to unblock me) during growth along the POC task.

Thanks ahead for your sharing!

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(5 comments)
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    Senior Software Engineer [SDE 3] at Amazon
    a year ago

    First of all, I don't think it is bad to try to reach out to the senior/TL to get guidance on how to tackle the ambuguity. I myself tend to breakdown a high level project to more manageable sub-components/features and let the other tackle each of the them. They all may have a simple write up on what the implementation may be like if its not as simple as just adding API to the existing system.

    Since you have observed your senior member breaking down the task into smaller subtasks with reference to a step-by-step guide, did they share the guide and how much do you understand the approach in said guide?

    Do you have a mentor? they could be a resource that you can refer to for guidance as well. I would say try your best to breakdown the component/features into as small as a task you could. The task itself should have well define success criteria so you or anyone else could pick it up and know when they completed it.

    There is no silver bullet when it come to dealing with something outside of your comfort zone, but i tend to think what is the next thing that needs to be done for a particular tasks at hand, until I reach a satisfactory completion. You won't have all the answers/solutions up front, but gradual progress can be considered a success.

    One thing to note is as you gain more experience, your view on how a problem should be tackled and solve will be come easier, so learning from all your peers and senior around you is key.

  • 1
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    Anonymous User [OP]
    Taro Community
    a year ago

    Thanks for sharing those. I couldn't agree more about breaking down complex stories into sub-components. I also hope to feel confident and learn the art of tackling ambiguity.

    Yes, the senior has shared the step-by-step guide with his analysis from external resources helps a LOT (it's beginner friendly and easy-to-read). Unfortunately, if I have to be picky, the resources are a little old (however, it is still excellent from the perspective of POC).

    Unfortunately, I don't have a mentor (even though I want to find someone). I know a few senior or above level outside of my teams, but I only communicate with them through the previous project and have yet to ask them explicitly. I think asking some engineers if they want to be my mentor could be abrupt. (I have been joining the company for less than six months and didn't know them in person. Sorry for being shy!) I would appreciate some great ideas/suggestions on how to find a mentor at a mid-size company.

    Last but not least, a huge thank you again for your insightful response.

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    Senior Software Engineer [SDE 3] at Amazon
    a year ago

    While the resource may be old, generally it is the idea and concept behind it that is important and applicable. It takes time to implement most idea in practice, but with practice I am sure you will be able to tackle it yourself in the future.

    With respect of finding a mentor, one option would be to ask your Manager if he can help with the search. If you have a senior developer that you interact with a lot and you do look up to them, doesn't hurt to have a casual coffee chat and ask them. In the worse case is them rejecting due to lack of time on their end, but they may be able to suggest others that would be capable of mentoring as well.

  • 0
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    Anonymous User [OP]
    Taro Community
    a year ago

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my question. Your help is instrumental in moving me forward. I appreciate your support. Thank you again. I hope to ace the handling of ambiguity someday while I keep trying.

    Thanks for your encouragement on the coffee chat thing. I need to overcome the nerves and summon the courage to ask them directly. If I get the lucky response, do you have any suggestions about how frequently I should gather up with my mentorship? Or are there any topics that are good fits while conversing with my mentor? Sorry for asking such a broad question. (Feel free to direct me to the previous conversation if this question has been asking repeatedly in Taro.)

  • 1
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    Senior Software Engineer [SDE 3] at Amazon
    a year ago

    There are some insights that Alex have shared in the past about utilizing your mentorship. https://www.jointaro.com/question/IbuZydz0QzsVVqESVaxQ/how-do-you-get-the-most-out-of-mentorship/

    and finding mentors:
    https://www.jointaro.com/question/53nM0O5iemQD5K5ZQkYE/how-do-i-find-a-proper-mentor-within-my-company/

    In term of frequency, it depends on how you and your mentors interact, generally my mentor ship starts at a weekly cadence. But my mentees do reach out to me via slack all the time for any other questions. When coaching/bootstrapping a whole new team, I have participated in daily sync to answer any questions they have, so it depends on your needs from the mentor and how much time they can commit to the mentorship.