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How should I respond when I have no idea what a person is talking about?

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Anonymous User at Taro Community9 months ago

I am onboarding at a new company. Sometimes, I feel I am completely lost when my teammates were explaining something to me. The reasons I can find may include

  1. I am lacking the understanding of the architecture or the context
  2. Their explanation uses phrases I do not know what they mean or how they work

In this situation, how should I respond to my teammates? Thanks in advance!



  • 6
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    9 months ago

    Is this in a live meeting or through chat?

    Since you're new, you should feel empowered to ask a lot of questions and request clarification. Your questions may be helpful to others in the meeting as well, so it's not only a service for you.

    If you feel like pausing the meeting would be too disruptive (the meeting is very large, or it's something that you've already encountered), then you can simply write down where you're confused.

    On your own, make your best attempt to look up the terminology and architecture on your own. Then, you should validate your understanding with someone on the team.

    If you have a dedicated onboarding buddy, they're the perfect person to start with. You should also talk 1:1 with each of the people on the team, and you'll find that many of your questions get answered through those conversations.

  • 5
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    Senior Software Engineer [SDE 3] at Amazon
    9 months ago

    Like Rahul mentioned, don't be shy or afraid to ask questions. Since you are onboarding, this is the best time to ask as many questions as you can until you understand the topic clearly. Every engineer is in the same boat at some point in their career. Here the following things you can do:

    • Ask the question right away
    • Note down the question and ask it later
    • Tell your teammate politely that you didn't understand the topic well enough due to missing context and ask for resources/ docs to help you. Then you get back to them later with better questions
    • Reach out to other people to talk about the same topic. Sometimes the way of explanation makes a lot of difference

    Hope this helps!

  • 6
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    Senior Software Engineer and Career Coach
    9 months ago

    This is a great question. I've been there plenty of times so I know how you might feel nervous potentially looking not knowledgeable.

    In short, always be honest. People in the industry are smart, and generally can read body language. So they will know if you are just saying "uh huh" without getting it.

    I'll be direct a lot of the time with just, "I'm just gonna be honest, I find this part really confusing." Or "I didn't really get what you meant with this part, can you explain that one more time?"

    A lot of the time people in tech will view it as a problem with their explanation rather than the fact that you didn't understand, since like I said, the general assumption is that people are pretty smart. So don't feel bad if you didn't understand it. It genuinely may be that they didn't explain it well or that they assumed some context you don't have