I came into my role with an advanced degree, so I started out as a mid-level engineer. However, I still need to be able to ask questions as I've never worked as an engineer before. I've seen all the Taro content around asking questions, but my manager has drilled in since a few months into this role that expectations are that I function independently, unblock myself, and don't take up much of others' time by asking questions. That it would count against me in performance reviews (versus for me if I help others with their questions).
Given the current job market, I don't know where else to go, but this environment leaves me pretty exasperated. Is it normal in other companies to go to more senior engineers with help getting unblocked? Are questions only really around code, or is it normal to ask for help debugging a feature/bug/test? I worry about becoming a senior with the expectation to be independent and help others when I myself have never received guidance to grow to that level properly.
Is it normal in other companies to go to more senior engineers with help getting unblocked?
Yes, it is incredibly normal, and it is encouraged on good teams. It seems like your team isn't the most collaborative. Unfortunately, many teams are like this, so here's my tactics on how to make do when asking questions is discouraged:
That being said, it's possible that your manager feels like you're getting poor ROI from requesting support. The difference between a low-performer engineer and a high-performer engineer when it comes to asking for help is that the low-performer is using it as a crutch while the high-performer is using it to actually level up (and they're doing it lightning fast too). I talk about this more in this discussion on handholding.
It's absolutely normal to ask for help debugging a feature/bug/test. If you're worried about the optics of asking for help too much, I have a few thoughts: