As a Programmer, How to Ask for Help? And, Should You?


Communication-wise there are three kinds of people, especially newbies, who might come up to you (or not) for help in the workplace.

There are those who follow the Pomodoro Technique 🍅, and disturb your work every 20 or 25 mins. They keep asking questions and requesting you to solve their issues, and unapologetically utter “I need your help” as many times as it takes.

There are those who suffer in silence. They keep things to themselves, when asking someone’s help wouldn’t have been that much of a big deal, and have resolved the issue right away. The people who’re often told by others “you could’ve told me sooner!”

And there are those who fall in-between. Bless them ✨

When you’re the second type, let me tell you, there’re both pros and cons to it. Same for the rest.

Pros are you become more responsible and are willing to proactively solve an issue yourself. It helps you improve.

Do not ever think that any knowledge you acquire yourself, through books or online resources, is somehow of less quality compared to the knowledge passed on to you from another human being in the flesh.

On the other hand, programming is not just about text book definition of putting together so and so keywords to perform so and so computation.

In real life, codes are written, read, updated, and rearranged by many humans. It’s like a literature that goes through multiple authors, or revisions. You can’t just expect if a code works, it’ll all be a smooth sailing after that.

Bad codes can get in the way of each other, throw error at you that are hard to debug, and become harder to understand and update. This happens for good codes, too, as time goes. That’s the nature of language, natural and programming.

That’s why you need to learn from other programmers. Hear them talk about how they code something, discuss with them which methods feel better, and why? Preferably, at workplace, where you’re with people who’re doing the same work as you, in the same projects, and are part of the same programming community.

It’s easier said than done, though. Everyone is busy at work. It can be intimidating to bother someone, especially if you’re a newbie.

So, it’s better to ask for help when others aren’t in their working zone and aren’t surrounded by an entourage of coworkers. But more importantly, after you’ve tried out all the possible solutions you could think of.

That’s the key, you see. When asking “can you help me?” is too much for you, the best thing you could do is start telling them about the issue and the solutions you tried and failed at, in brief and simpler words. They’ll automatically reply you with other possible solutions, or tell you what might’ve gone wrong with yours.

When asking “what is this?” is too much for you, simply tell them what you think it is and then ask if that’s right? They’ll correct you willingly, and throw in more info about what you’re asking, if they’re in a good mood 🙂

This stops you from feeling like you’re imposing on others unnecessarily and helps you realise that you gave your best shot, and since it didn’t work, you’re now asking for help.

The Author

Web developer and writer. @rpsthecoder in Twitter.