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Jessica Wilkins
Jessica Wilkins

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How I got over my fear of asking questions as a new junior developer

When I started my first junior role, I was hesitant to ask for help from my boss.

In my mind, if I tried to ask for help and it was something "simple" then I would look like an idiot.

So I made the choice to not communicate at all and try to figure everything out on my own.

That ended up being a big mistake and I quickly learned that is not the right approach to take.

This is the story of how I went from not asking questions to finally feeling comfortable in doing so.

How I got the job

I started learning how to code in June of 2020, through various online resources including freeCodeCamp. It was definitely a challenge for me to learn all of this stuff but I was starting to enjoy programming.

In September of 2020, I decided to join the freeCodeCamp forum as a way to connect with other beginners like me who were going through the curriculum.

I initially thought I would just hang out in the background and maybe answer a few questions here and there. But I ended up become very active and found myself sharing my journey with others.

In October of 2020, I received an email from a guy looking for a junior developer to work part time at his company. He said he found my posts on the forum and wanted to reach out.

At first I thought it was a total scam. Who is going to want to hire me? I'm a complete newbie. 😆

I hadn't been programming that long and definitely didn't feel confident to work any type of programming job.

I did a quick Google search to check him out, but couldn't find any red flags. I figured I would reply back and setup a meeting.

I was confident that when we talked I would be able to see if this was a real opportunity or not.

We ended up connecting over Zoom and talked for almost an hour.

He liked my activity on the forum and figured I would learn well on the job. So at the end of the Zoom call, I accepted the offer.

Getting setup was difficult

This was the first time in my life where I was working on a professional project and I never realized what it really took to setup a project locally.

Up until this point, I had only worked on small class projects. Not projects with databases and thousands of lines of code.

He was really patient with me and walked me through the setup process.

I didn't understand any of these commands we were doing in the command line. I was so lost during the whole process and felt really bad about asking so many questions.

I just kept thinking, he is going to fire me because I don't understand any of this. But luckily that didn't happen. 😄

After a long setup process, I was finally able to get the project running on my computer.

My first assignment

When I looked at the code for the first time, I was really overwhelmed.

There were so many lines of code and I didn't know where to start. My initial thought was, "How am I supposed to learn all of this?"

But my boss let me know that it was ok to be overwhelmed at first and that it would take time to get used to the codebase.

He then gave me my first assignment. I was nervous but ready to tackle the challenge.

I started off strong and was able to get some code working but then I hit my first error. I calmly read through the error message and tried googling around for an answer.

I was able to fix the error, but in hindsight I should have just asked for help. It would have saved me so much time and headache.

But at the time, I really wanted to prove myself and not come across as dumb by asking for help on an "easy" problem.

For the first few assignments, I struggled way longer than I should have all because I didn't want to ask for help.

Have you worked on the issue yet?

After a few months of working, I was starting to receive more complex assignments. I was happy with the progress I was making but still resistant to ask my boss for help.

There was one assignment where I was struggling to get it working. I had tried everything I knew how to do.

I searched through dozens of Stack Overflow answers, read through documentation, and refactored my code several times. But nothing was working.

And during all of this time, I was completely silent and I did not communicate at all with my boss.

I just figured the issue would be resolved and then I could let him know that I figured it out.

But then, he reached out to me and asked, "Have you gotten to the issue yet?"

It was in that moment when I realized, "Oh crap, he doesn't think I am working." But I was working really hard to find the answer.

I quickly realized that not communicating was a horrible mistake. I replied to him and let him know I was working on the assignment but I was stuck on this one thing.

We ended up pair programming on the issue and resolved it within 15 minutes.

15 minutes working with an experienced developer resolved the issue I spent days working on.

Advice for Junior developers

The moral of the story is that you shouldn't wait to long to reach out for help. Your developer team is there to help and guide you along the way.

Your boss understands that you are a junior and will have lots of questions.

I am here to tell you, PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS!!!

Don't go silent and struggle to resolve an issue for days like I did.

If you have legitimately tried everything you could, reach out and ask for help.

How to ask for help

It is important for all developers to know how to ask good questions that will receive good answers.

Avoid phrases like, "This doesn't work", or "I'm stuck and don't know how to solve this."

People need more information than that in order to help you. Try to provide as much information as possible.

When asking for help, let people know what you have tried and researched first. Then ask for help by specifying what part of the code is giving you trouble and what you are trying to do.

That will help narrow down the issue and people will be able to effectively help you.

Conclusion

I know things can be hard during your first junior developer role. But remember that it is just a season of growing and learning.

You will be introduced to so many new concepts and technologies that it is normal to become overwhelmed. Just try to take things day by day and don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help. 😄

Discussion (4)

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sroehrl profile image
neoan

Having worked with juniors for years, I commend you for this realization: it is so important to ask questions and address unknown factors or terminology head on. This not only speeds up personal development, but enhances the outcome of the complete project and timeline. I would even go so far as to make this one of the most important factors for new developers on a team in general.

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frost profile image
Martin Frost

I agree. And for those of us who are a little more senior, one thing I think we can do to help speed things up is to try to be more open for questions, and maybe even ask "is there anything you would like my help with?" occasionally (just like the boss did in this story)

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dolamu profile image
Dolamu Asipa

Great article, Jessica and very spot on. Communication is key to any successful team relationship. Whether it be timely escalation of issues or asking questions on unclear work areas, or simply speaking up (rather than just bottling everything in) and asking for help, it is very important to keep other team members informed.

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doctorew profile image
Drew Schillinger

Great write up and advice! An added layer to this:

The ability of your teammates to ask for help is a sign of a healthy team makeup and the ever-important psychological safety that ensures team growth.

Please keep up this learning and sharing!

Excelsior!

Drew