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What to do when manager disapproves of asking questions?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [IC2] at Nvidia2 years ago

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.



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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    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:

    • Get maximum value per answer - Make it so than whenever you do ask that rare question, you really extract a ton of learning from it. Really strive to understand the processes the senior+ engineers on your team use to solve problems: How do they crack into a codebase they're unfamiliar with? Here's a good explainer video for this: How To Actually Learn Software Engineer Skills
    • Find a sympathetic senior engineer - If there's a senior engineer who is friendly and willing to help you regularly, I can't imagine that a manager would strike it down. Follow the advice here to find such a mentor: "How do I find the best mentor for me within my company?"
    • Go deep on a focus area - This will minimize your exposure to new areas, which will reduce your need to ask questions. This might require pushing back on tickets and requests that stretch you into other places. That being said, saying "no" is an important skill to cultivate as a software engineer, and senior engineers generally should be opinionated about what kind of work they take on.
    • Have a crucial conversation with your manager - This is a last resort if you really can't find a way to perform without asking questions. At the end of the day, I feel like letting a software engineer ask questions to get work done on time is way better than just letting them struggle and finish everything late. You can try sharing the frameworks from here: Asking Questions Is NOT A Sign Of Weakness

    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 break this all down more here: "What does it mean to not require handholding anymore?"

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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    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:

    • Schedule a recurring sync with an established engineer (someone who can answer questions, whether senior or not), under the guise of project planning + feedback. Then use this time to ask questions and have back-and-forth that will be helpful for your learning.
    • Leverage more informal channels. e.g. when I was at Meta, there was a dev-only chat where we'd talk about things like the build being broken, quick hacks to get unblocked, etc. Can you grab lunch with others on the team and see if something like this exists? This is a lower cost way to ask questions, and you get plugged into what others on the team are asking.
Nvidia Corporation is a software and fabless company which designs graphics processing units (GPUs), APIs for data science and high-performance computing, and a system on a chip units (SoCs) for the mobile and automotive market.
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