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How do you overcome the fear of asking stupid questions / bothering people when you need help?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer at Series C Startup2 years ago

Fear/stomach-turning when I think about asking people for help (especially in public channels) has been a major blocker for me as a junior engineer.



  • 36
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    First thing to acknowledge is that this is super common, so don't worry. Few things come to mind:

    • Questions have value in themselves. Especially if you're new to the company, the questions you ask can educate the gaps on the team (e.g. ideally the setup/onboarding experience should be "magical", so the fact that you got stuck is feedback for how to improve, and that's valuable).
    • Make it obvious that you did the work. A good question should almost always reference past research you did and what you've tried, along with some hypothesis. If you do this, it'll be much more likely for you to get help

    Also, here's the content in Taro about asking good questions.

  • 58
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    We have some great resources on overcoming this confidence gap and asking great questions (linked below), but something tactical I want to cover is how you can ask for help in a way that's extremely safe with near 0 risk for pushback.

    Take the following way of asking for help:

    n00b question: How can I get my IDE to auto-indent my code?

    I've spent a lot of time going through existing resources and none of them seem to work - It's getting frustrating. [More context on what you tried here]

    Huge thanks to anyone who's taken the time to read this!"

    This question is "fortified" with so many mechanisms to prevent someone from being mean and calling you annoying or the question stupid. Let's go through them:

    1. "n00b question" - This self-deprecation acknowledges that you realize that this question may be very basic and there's just some obvious solution you missed (it happens to all of us, it's part of being human). It's hard to dunk on someone who's already semi-dunking on themselves (lightheartedly of course). You can use this label all the time as you're a junior engineer. I recommend that everyone use this whenever they're joining a new team, regardless of how senior they are.
    2. "It's getting frustrating" - You're appealing to others' empathy by showing that this problem is a pretty negative experience for you. This also incentivizes your teammates with a good sense of empathy to help you (which I hope is all of them) as part of being an empathetic person is wanting to take away other's pain.
    3. "Huge thanks to any who's taken the time to read this!" - I call this "preemptive appreciation". It's just a way of weaving positive energy into your question, making it harder and more awkward for people to respond with negative energy.

    If you ask every question like this, I'm sure you will get great responses and you shouldn't be afraid of pushback ever.

    You can see how with all these components, it would take as astonishing amount of cruelty for someone to respond dismissively or harshly to your question. And if this does happen, this is a good signal to have - You probably want to avoid this person in the future. If many people respond very negatively to your question, this is signal that you might want to switch teams/companies. It's much better to switch earlier vs. trying to survive for a long time in a toxic environment.

    Here's some related Q&A I recommend checking out:

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