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How do I balance being more independent and asking questions?

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Senior Software Engineer at Seed Stage Startup2 years ago

I'm pretty new to my company, so I've been asking questions and looking for "hand-holding" to bring myself up to speed. I've been having trouble ramping up though - My velocity hasn't been the best, and I've also gotten feedback that I need to be more independent as a senior engineer.

This leaves me a bit confused - I know that in order to onboard, you need to seek out help aggressively and ask questions, but this seems opposite of the feedback around being more independent. How do I think about these 2 ideas? Should I just be working harder and spending more time figuring things out on my own?

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  • 65
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    2 years ago

    Great question! This tension is very reasonable, and it's super interesting to dive into.

    In a nutshell, I deeply believe that asking a ton of questions is actually a strong mark of independence. In other words, these 2 ideas aren't conflicting: They actually go hand-in-hand. To understand this more, check out my detailed thoughts on becoming more independent.

    Senior+ engineers often function as "connectors". It's not reasonable to expect someone, especially someone new, to just know everything. The difference between senior+ engineers and more junior engineers is that the former has the confidence and communication skills to go out there, build relationships fast, and get tons of high-quality answers to their mountain of high-quality questions quickly. The senior+ engineers are able to "connect" all the relevant people together to figure out exactly what it is they need to do.

    However, let's say that asking questions is actually perceived as a sign of weakness in your org. There's 2 outcomes here:

    1. You stop asking questions and struggle for an extended period of time, >3 months. You are likely working crazy overtime to fill in the gaps.
    2. You ask a ton of questions in a short period of time (<1 month). You appear "weak" during that month, but since you're learning so aggressively, you become quite capable very fast, similar to ripping off a band-aid (i.e. it hurts a lot initially and then it's all better).

    Option #2 seems way better to me!

    That being said, it's important that your question asking game levels up over time - There is a failure mode where you're asking your teammates a lot of questions and annoying them as you aren't actually developing/growing. Here's a great discussion on what it means to level up here.

    For more tactical advice on how to ask questions well and be comfortable doing it a lot:

  • 25
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    Senior Manager at Zoox; Meta, Snap, Google
    a year ago

    I would say that asking many questions and looking for "hand-holding" are 2 very different things. I think senior engineers should ideally avoid looking for "hand-holding", while it's definitely expected from them to ask a lot of questions (and not only when they are new).

    I would recommend asking for a follow up the person who provided you this feedback about "being more independent ":

    1. How much time do they expect you trying to figure out the answer by yourself prior to asking for a help of your co-worker? E.g. I recommend trying to spend 30 mins researching by yourself before asking questions in my Org.
    2. What is the best way in your Org to get answers on your typical questions? E.g. it could be recommended for you to first research Confluence pages, DesignDocs and also avoid asking questions in 1:1 fashion and use shared resources like corporate StackOverflow or public help channels dedicated to your topic.
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