Knowing when to ask

It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, what your title is, or whether you are considered a leader in the team / project / company. If you don’t know yourself and when you need to ask questions, you’re going to be in trouble. You must be able to evaluate your own perspective and whether or not you are stuck down in the weeds or not.


I’m mapping individual trees, not surveying the forest

I just got off the phone with a coworker who is the ‘point person’ on a new feature set. I called him and asked for advice on two separate issues related to the piece that I am currently working on. 1) a design problem with the workflow, and 2) whether or not i should "do it right" or "get it done".

My own perspective and involvement in the process had led me down into the weeds of implementation detail where I needed to be. I recognized an issue in the implementation that was causing problems with the workflow. I also recognized that my current depth and focus were preventing me from seeing the big picture (schedule, budget, etc). My reaction to the design problem was one of “do it right” because I was focused entirely on the implementation issues at hand. I knew that I needed a higher level perspective to understand whether or not “do it right” was the correct response, though. So, I called up my coworker and asked for help. We discovered two possible solutions through the conversation. One of them was “the right way” to make the code conform to all of the principles and patterns that we try to use. The other was “well, you could just do this and get it done without a major rewrite”, ignoring many of those principles.


Lose the ego and the pride

In the end, I was not capable of making the decision to “do it right” or “get it done” because I was too far down in the weeds of implementation detail. I needed a different perspective and advice on how to proceed and I found that perspective by asking questions and seeking advice. 

I don’t care about my title, role, or over-arching responsibilities on the team, the project or within the company. It would have been irresponsible of me to assume that I could make the decision on my own at that point in time. This does not mean that I always have to seek advice and others’ perspectives. It only means I know when I need to seek advice and others’ perspectives. It also creates opportunities for me to take the opposite role on a regular basis. I am often the person with the high level perspective who is capable of providing advice on whether or not someone else can take the time to “do it right” vs “get it done”. And because I know when to ask and I do ask when I need to, others are also willing to ask because they see that it’s ok to ask.

If you refuse to ask; if you don’t know when to ask; if you are afraid to ask; you are potentially damaging your career, team and project. Lose the ego, drop your guard and give up your pride for a moment. Learn when and how to ask for the help that you need.

About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
This entry was posted in Coaching, Management, Pragmatism, Principles and Patterns. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
  • I couldn’t agree with you more.
    Sometimes it is hard to ask so many questions, because you think that it might make you look dumb or you have to admit what you don’t know, but it is so much better to be willing to ask questions and learn, than to sit in darkness next to the light switch.

    I am always amazed at how many people are afraid to ask questions for ask for help.
    I’d rather feel like an idiot and get the job done and learn something, than to be an idiot and gain nothing.

  • reallyJim

    This has to be one of my favorite posts of all time. I wish I could get more people, above and below me, on my team and with clients, to fully understand this.

    Great post!