I'm assigned to several projects but I don't have a true mentor at work to get constructive feedback from, or to ask questions and learn from. Since I don't have anyone assigned to answer my questions, I have to ask developers assigned to other projects when I have a question I can't answer myself, or for general guidance on how to approach a particular problem.

When I ask, I often get less than helpful answers and the feeling that the other developers can't be bothered to help me, or are just too busy. While I understand that answering these questions aren't a part of their job description, they are the only people at my office I can ask for help. While I don't expect them to take the time to act as my mentor, I would like to increase the chances of getting them to support me when I do need to ask them a question.

How can I ask coworkers for help on projects assigned to me that they aren't involved with when I run in to problems I can't solve alone?

  • Hey user, and welcome to The Workplace! I'm a bit unclear on what exactly the problem is, and what sort of solution you're looking for. Are the problems you need help with required to do your job? If so, are the people you are asking assigned to help you do that job? If not, why would you expect people to help you with side projects and/or when it isn't their responsibility? Especially when you want to learn new skills to change jobs? Could you please edit your post to clarify the situation and what you want to accomplish? Thanks in advance. – jmac Apr 4 '14 at 2:45
  • @jmac Ok added a few clarifications based on your questions, does that help? – user18413 Apr 4 '14 at 2:51
  • Thanks for the edit. Generally speaking, it's better to include the information from the edit in the question to make it easier for people who read it the first time, but we can do that later. Would it be accurate to say your question is, "How can I ask coworkers for help on projects assigned to me that they aren't involved with when I run in to problems I can't solve alone?" Thanks in advance! – jmac Apr 4 '14 at 2:53
  • Okay, I'm going to brush up your post a bit with an edit to make it clearer to future readers and to get you better answers. Feel free to edit yourself if you think I missed something or it doesn't actually tackle the question you want answers to. Thanks in advance! – jmac Apr 4 '14 at 2:59
  • I don't think this merits and answer in and of itself, so comment: the best way a junior member ever asked me for a favor (which was, admittedly, a big favor) was by giving me a bottle of Scotch in exchange. Not only did I do him the favor, but I made sure his requests/favors jumped to the top of the list from that point on. So.. a similar approach might be worth considering for you as well. – HopelessN00b Apr 4 '14 at 15:59

You are in an unfortunate situation at work. The other developers should be working with you to help you get past any issues you have. But since that doesn't seem to be the case...

Pretend that you work alone as a developer for a small company. What would you do? Read books. Read articles online. Come onto web sites (like StackExchange) and discuss issues and ideas. There are hundreds of forum sites where you can discuss to your heart's content (including the StackExchange chat areas).

Don't let the company culture hold you back. It is your responsibility to grow and learn. If the others either won't or can't help you, help yourself.

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How can I ask coworkers for help on projects assigned to me that they aren't involved with when I run in to problems I can't solve alone?

Basically, you are asking for a favor, and for their time.

  • Ask if now is a good time to chat
  • If this isn't a good time, perhaps another time (during lunch?) is better
  • Explain why you need help
  • Ask your specific question(s)
  • Don't ask too many questions at once
  • Don't take up too much of their time
  • If they are too busy or don't know the answers, ask who else would be better to talk with
  • Thank them
  • If the opportunity comes up in a different (or public) context, praise them ("Yes, boss - I wouldn't have been able to get this project done without the advice of Jane.")

Many people enjoy helping others. (Many people contribute here at Workplace for just that reason) But sometimes they are too busy. Be respectful of that.

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As someone who is a young developer, I can relate to your problem. As Adam Zuckerman rightfully pointed out, you should try figuring out a solution on your own before you knock on another developers door for help. It can be incredibly frustrating when a developer is interrupted when he is in the middle of something.

The good way to start is to solidify your skillset as a developer. It will help you in the long run.

Long term solutions:

  • Use your weekends to gain experience and learn new things. Pick up a book or two.
  • Contribute towards open-source projects
  • Take up classes on MOOC

Short term solutions:

  • Google for help. Sites like StackExchange can be incredibly helpful in getting realtime answers.
  • Set time constraints and take a break. It's easy to spend the whole afternoon trying to debug one problem. It helps to set a self-imposed time constraint, and when the clock ticks, take a 10 minute break. It help you clear your thoughts and solve problems sometimes.
  • If you absolutely must as for a solution, avoid walking up to their desk or using instant messenger. Drop them an email. Since most developers only read emails when they have some time to spare, this may not come as an intruption to them.
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This is good question for the new developer who are willing to get help from other developer in the same company. There are situations that we can ask help from other developer but most of the time they are also busy with their tasks. Just imagine when you are busy with your developing, some another new developer ask help from you to his project, do you spend time for that? Probably no. So we can discuss issues when they are free, in friendly manner without disturb for their works. I think then you may get good response from them.

Other than that we should find out possible ways to accomplish our works. In Adam Zuckerman answers he pointed out some good ways to solve your problems. One good example if the forums. There are number of users who willing to give help. You may get different types of ideas by them. As well as reading books, blogs and tutorials you can solve most of your questions. Answering others questions in your spare time is another good way to improve your skills.

I would like to suggest you, first of all try to learn how to google the particular issue. It will give number of possible answers since you don't have to wait for the help from other developers.

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I am fairly sure that you have a manager. So, escalate the issue to your manager and ask your manager to tell/mandate the developers to give you the requisite cooperation because at this point, getting the developers to cooperate with you to answer the simplest, most basic questions on the work that THEY have done is like going into the water and pulling teeth out of a Great White shark with a pair of pliers - and just as pleasant :)

In general, if you identify an issue as a management issue, try to come up with a management solution for it. The issue you have is not a technical issue but a management issue.

As an aside, advice on looking things up on Google or in some textbook is going to be of no use to you if your issue is having to make sense of tightly coupled in-house code that is inadequately documented.

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  • I suspect the other developers may resent this and it may cause more conflict than is currently occurring. – Fiona - myaccessible.website Apr 4 '14 at 10:51
  • @CodingKiwi: when the alternative is me not being able to do my job and meet the milestones I agreed to, I am going full speed ahead and rolling my tank over their legs. If the situation were reversed, be assured that I would have been fully cooperative. I expect the same professional courtesy in return. I am not asking for anything outrageous, like them doing my work for me. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 4 '14 at 10:59
  • I agree, I just don't think going to management should be the first step here. Try to help yourself first. – Fiona - myaccessible.website Apr 4 '14 at 12:12
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    @CodingKiwi: I presume that we all do. But if you and I allow ourselves to get mired trying to understand somebody's code, chances are pretty good that the blame is going to fall on us regardless of how poorly written and organized that code is in the first place. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 4 '14 at 12:22

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