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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

This Is Why Every Software Engineer Must Ask For Help

Ever felt like you’re the superhero of coding, invincible and all?

That was me. The go-to developer, the problem-solver, the “I’ve got this” guy.

Who needs help when you’ve got skills? That’s for rookies, or so I thought.

The age-old programming myths claim that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

“Real programmers don’t ask for help!”

“You’re losing your edge!”

“Trust me, you don’t want to look dumb.”

“You’re a senior dev!”

“Google it!” or “Just stack overflow it, man!”

I’ve heard all these statements and more in my 18-year software career.

But then, my mentor, a veteran developer, shared a game-changing piece of advice.

“You can be a good programmer on your own. But you’ll only become a great developer if you can help and learn how to ask for help. Just make sure you don’t become a crutch for others.”

That flipped the script for me. My career didn’t just grow; it opened doors I never thought possible.

Are you ready to discover how asking for help can be the secret to your incredible growth? Let’s dive in.

The Fear of Asking for Help

“In my work as an executive coach, I’ve seen people refrain from asking for help typically due to limiting beliefs or assumptions around what they fear might happen if they asked a colleague for help.” — Rebecca Zucker (executive coach)

Why do many programmers act like lone wolves, stubbornly trying to solve everything alone?

Here are the three big reasons:

1. Fear of looking incompetent. I used to worry I would look dumb. I would tell myself, “This might be a silly question. Others must know it already, as they seem to understand the discussion.”

But what I was unable to recognize then is that even the best programmers need support. They ask questions as necessary, and that’s how they get better.

2. Fear of bothering others. I was afraid of disturbing others by asking for help. I felt they might assume I don’t value their time.

As I learned later in my career, most people are more than willing to help. Only inexperienced programmers hesitate to help. Competent developers know they learn something new every time they assist someone else.

3. Fear of reputation damage. Most software engineers worry that asking for help will harm their reputation

They think, “If I ask for help, will my team start to think I’m not competent enough for this role? Will it affect my chances of getting that promotion or the high-visibility project?”

I’ve realized over the years that this fear is largely unfounded. Being open about what you don’t know shows humility and a willingness to learn.

And these traits are highly valued by leaders.

A small sidebar —  Fear of reputation damage is not an entirely irrational fear (Thanks, Mihai Banulescu, for pointing this out to me). Individuals do face this challenge in certain teams. And it is a clear indication that you should leave such a team as soon as feasible. You cannot grow in an environment where asking for help is not encouraged (or, worse, punished).

The Problems With Not Asking for Help

“In a global study I recently conducted on overwhelm at work that surveyed 730 full-time working professionals, I examined various personal factors (not the volume of work itself), and lack of help-seeking was tied as one of the top two predictors of feeling overwhelmed at work, with the second highest correlation to overwhelm. Those who don’t ask for help scored 23% higher on overwhelm.”

Going solo is a badge of honor. It might give you a sense of pride and superiority over others.

But let’s get real; there are some severe drawbacks to not knowing when and how to ask for help. Here are a few:

1. Wasting time. Time is your most valuable asset. Spending days on a problem that could be solved in an hour with some guidance? That’s not just inefficient; it’s a missed opportunity. You could be working on something more impactful or learning a new skill.

2. Making mistakes. Sure, mistakes are a great teacher, but why make them if you don’t have to? Stubbornly refusing to ask for help doesn’t just lead to errors; it can also slow down your entire team and produce poor-quality delivery.

And let’s face it, some mistakes can be costly in terms of time and resources.

3. Stunted growth. Here’s the kicker: when you don’t ask for help, you’re missing out on a chance to grow. By not interacting with others, you miss out on gaining new perspectives and learning from their experience.

The Benefits of Asking for Help

If you’ve hesitated to ask for help, it’s time to change your game plan. Here’s why:

1. Faster problem-solving. Why spend hours or days stuck on a problem when you can solve it in minutes? Asking for help is like hitting the fast-forward button on your project. You get unstuck, and you get it done — fast.

2. Learning from others. When you ask for help, you’re not just solving a problem; you’re gaining insights. You learn new approaches and techniques that you might not have discovered on your own. It’s like a mini-masterclass every time you reach out.

Asking for help also shows you are ready to be vulnerable if that teaches you something new. Your willingness to learn can inspire others to do the same. This creates a culture of continuous improvement and growth within the team.

3. Boosting team morale. Asking for help increases team bonding and thus can boost morale. It shows you trust your colleagues’ expertise. That kind of trust is the glue that holds teams together.

Psychology Today mentions that asking for help can be a way to gather resources and join forces. It also discusses the importance of team bonding and how it can affect an individual’s sense of purpose and passion.

So, if you’ve been going solo, think again. Asking for help isn’t just practical; it’s strategic. It’s how you tap into the collective intelligence around you to get better results faster.

How to Ask for Help the Right Way

“Be a master of your craft, but know that you’re not THE master.” Liz Wessel (co-founder and CEO of WayUp)

So, you’re convinced — asking for help is the way to go. But how do you do it without stepping on toes or wasting someone’s time?

Here are three simple steps to do it like a pro:

1. Be specific. Don’t just say, “I’m stuck.” or “I don’t know what’s happening.” Instead, come prepared by doing your groundwork.

Be clear about what you’re asking and why you’re asking it.

The more specific you are, the easier it is for someone to assist you. It shows you’ve done your homework, and now you’re stuck at a point where only external help can move you forward.

2. Choose the right time. Once, a colleague asked me to help with one of his issues. I requested him to come back after some time as I was busy. His response was, “I am also busy. I cannot keep coming to you when you wish.

Let me ask you, how would you have replied to such a help request?

Timing is everything. Don’t barge over to someone’s desk when they’re swamped. Ask when the person can help and meet them at the scheduled time.

When you request help, always start with, “Do you have a moment?” It shows respect for their time.

3. Be open to learning, not just solving. I have seen people asking for help, expecting a quick fix. They hardly pay any attention to how the person approaches the problem. But, they get frustrated when the other person asks what they have done to resolve the issue.

Such behavior risks alienating people and decreases your chances of getting help. It also makes you learn nothing. You will be back in a stuck state as soon as you face the situation again.

Hence, when you ask for help, be ready to learn. Don’t look for magic solutions. Sometimes, the best help you can get is understanding how to approach similar problems in the future. This not only solves your immediate issue but makes you a better problem-solver.

The Art of Asking for Help

The art of asking for help

The next time you find yourself stuck on a tricky piece of code or facing a career dilemma, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Do it the right way, and you’ll solve your immediate problem and open doors to new opportunities and growth.

Remember, even the most seasoned pros have moments of doubt and confusion. What sets them apart is their willingness to seek help, learn, and move forward.

As the saying goes, “Be a master of your craft, but know that you’re not THE master.” Embrace the wisdom around you, and you’ll be amazed at how far you can go.

Happy coding!


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