55

I'm well and truly in need of some help.

For weeks now, I've been working on developing a new page for our application - I've been making good progress for a long time now, adding in parts and modifying them as changes come in, and carefully moving around problems I haven't yet got a solution to.

Now, I've been hammering at a problem for the past three days and haven't yet solved - and it's truly time that it needs to be resolved. I've made my best attempt to work out a resolution, but there are kinks in it that don't quite solve everything I need them to, and the bottom line is - I don't know what to do next, and could really use some help.

Now I don't want to come off as being clueless, especially since I've been at this job for over 3 years (long enough to be considered a core part of the project, not yet long enough to have a lot of clout). I've written up an explanation of what I've done and what I need help with, but I am afraid to share it right away, because I still want to solve this on my own, and I don't want to tear anybody away from what they're working on either.

How can I present my problem, a problem that has truly gotten the better of me, without making myself look bad?

  • 4
    @Lumberjack It's over 500 words long and features a ton of technical jargon - I don't think you'd want all of that. – Zibbobz Jul 8 '16 at 14:00
  • 101
    Not asking for help is typically a bigger "sin" than being stuck (which can happen to the best of us) – AndreiROM Jul 8 '16 at 14:02
  • 5
    there's no shame in not knowing everything in the universe. As long as you show that you've tried the kind of reasonable steps that other coders would expect and it seems reasonable to other coders then you won't look like an idiot. – Murphy Jul 8 '16 at 15:08
  • 3
    @Lumberjack The way I wrote up the explanation is also fairly app-specific, so I'd have to edit it quite a bit to be more generic, by which point it could be even longer. I appreciate the offer for help, but as per the answers given here I have actually already presented the problem, and gotten the needed help as well, from my co-workers. – Zibbobz Jul 8 '16 at 16:49
  • 3
    @Lilienthal For some context - I work on this app's Java code basically alone. We have contractors, but they only signed on a few months ago, and my only other nearby co-worker under the same boss is working on a different app. – Zibbobz Jul 8 '16 at 18:44
86

I am a firm believer in admitting fault or making others aware of difficulties I experience in the workplace as soon as possible. It would be an extremely unreasonable employer that took umbrage with an employee, particularly one with several years experience, that had genuinely tried their best to overcome a difficult issue but required additional help to progress; certainly not an employer I'd want to work for!

Realistically, the worst case scenario if you approach your superior is that someone else solves the problem and you look a little silly. As a software developer myself I experience this regularly, when I get a bit snow-blind from working on a project. I don't think you'd find many developers that don't sometimes get this.

The worst case - and more likely - scenario if you try to hide this and sweep it under the rug is that it bites you in the butt later when someone discovers it. Not only will you look incompetent for not solving an issue, you'll also look arrogant in that you refused to seek help. And the longer you delay, the worse this will get.

Also, get on over to Stack Overflow and ask the helpful bods over there for advice. There are very few technical problems in the world that nobody else has ever experienced; I think that's the entire purpose of this network!

  • 21
    It was definitely a kind of "graduation" when I began going to coworkers for advice and they started coming to me for advice. It's hard to work in technology (and probably in other fields) for more than a few years before reaching some kind of stumbling block or weak area. But that means everyone has their own stumbling blocks and weak areas. so you just trade help for help. I help a coworker with switching and he helps me with cloud services, and everyone wins. To me, prioritizing the work over one's ego is an important part of professionalism. – Todd Wilcox Jul 8 '16 at 18:41
  • 10
    I know I can count on a co-worker that tells me when they need help. Nobody knows everything, or can solve every problem. – Jeremy Nottingham Jul 8 '16 at 22:04
  • +1 for the stackoverflow suggestion. I hope the OP takes it, solves his or her problem that way, and comes back here to say so. – Ethan Bolker Jul 9 '16 at 14:42
  • And it's always best to go to your superior and say something like "I'm having x problem, I've tried y & z and it's not working, can you see what I'm missing?" – Thomo Jul 10 '16 at 22:42
22

It's far better to bring up issues/problems before the deadline. You should say I'm stuck on x, y, z and I did a, b, c. Try to do it in a meeting setting. Show what you did and where you are stuck. Do this well before someone asks, "Why is this thing broken?" And you have to explain. You will look very bad then. Maybe not fired, but potentially having your project given off.

  • 32
    For me, I often find the process of explaining the problem to someone else helps me solve the problem. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 8 '16 at 15:02
  • 2
    @Zibbobz: For difficult problems a whiteboard can be your best friend. – NotMe Jul 8 '16 at 15:29
  • 7
    @chad - half time I'll be in the middle of explaining the issue to our senior dev when the real problem and a solution for it suddenly become crystal clear. At which point I feel very silly for wasting people's time. – AndreiROM Jul 8 '16 at 15:34
  • 3
    @Zibbobz send an email asking for help then. But ask for help soliving the problem not for someone to do it for you – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 8 '16 at 15:56
  • 3
    @AndreiROM : sometimes, I explain the problem to my dog, for exactly this reason. It works a lot of the time. Also, writing it up (as the OP did) often works. If those don't work, it's not going to make you look dumb, almost by definition. – Jeffiekins Jul 8 '16 at 16:08
17

Go to your supervisor, and say "I need help".

It's really that simple.

  • Use your supervisor. That what supervisors are for. – Tony Ennis Jul 9 '16 at 13:51
  • Yes that's what I said – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 9 '16 at 15:46
  • 5
    Aye. That why I upvoted you. Anyone who types more than that is typing too much. – Tony Ennis Jul 9 '16 at 21:35
  • If you don't want to be quite as direct, try "I need a bit of help", or even join with @Pete's "fresh pair of eye's". It helps to make it feel like peer level assistance, rather than teacher-student. – Philip Oakley Jul 11 '16 at 10:11
  • Really? "I need help" is "I need help". Don't know why everyone's trying to make this complicated. – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 11 '16 at 10:12
16

You need a 'fresh pair of eyes' on the problem. Don't make it a big issue, just ask the person you feel has the best grasp of the system. Probably by the time you finish explaining it to them, you'll have solved it yourself - or they may come up with a solution that works, or an alternative way of approaching it, or a business case for avoiding it altogether. There are very few unsolvable problems in IT.

7

Ask for help. Do it now and do not omit a single detail or question. He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

In my years of experience, and certainly during the first few months during my current job, I learned quickly that one should never hesitate to ask for clarification. Gather any and all research and progress you may have, set a time with your project manager or supervisor, and bring a list of prepared questions in order to make sure that you are clear about what you need. You may not even truly be over your head once you begin preparing to ask for help, but I'm sure your supervisor will appreciate your candor even if it comes to the point where you hand it off.

There is no shame in asking for help, especially in tech where things can get out of hand quickly.

  • +1 Many great answers here, but this proverb is a gem: "He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever." – Xoque55 Jul 9 '16 at 22:04
3

Even the best of us, sometimes get stumped for something very stupid. Consider that, maybe the reason why you can not solve this problem is, someone, somewhere, has implemented an undocumented feature and it only gets disseminated as folkloric knowledge to those who ask about it.

If you are on the same position for 3 years and tried everything within your power to solve the problem but can not find the solution, in my opinion, it is time to ask help from someone who has been around, for a substantially longer period of time. Unless of course, the issue that stumped you is purely technical and a well worded google search can find the answer for you. In which case you will look like a bumbling idiot. But I am pretty sure this is not the case. Without knowing what your problem is, it is very hard to say anything about it.

3

Post the problem to the appropriate area of Stack Exchange!

In all seriousness what external resources have you tapped in order to find a resolution? There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet and I know that when I am faced with a issue that I just cant seem to resolve, searching for solutions online usually helps. Even if you do not find the magic post with a step by step resolution, other peoples answers frequently stimulates a new avenue of thought about the problem and a new way of approaching it.

  • This is a great comment... but not an answer – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 8 '16 at 15:01
  • errr....flippant answer that deserves to be expanded upon. – JasonJ Jul 8 '16 at 15:15
  • I did do my dues and searched SE for answers (how do you think I got here? ;) ) unfortunately, our code is legacy, and the wealth of answers for this type of problem lean towards 'replace this old thing with a new, better thing', which is good, but not feasible for the scope of my problem. – Zibbobz Jul 8 '16 at 15:21
  • 8
    @Zibbobz If you post the constraints, you'll often times find someone willing to not do the 'replace' route and really help you. But a lot of times the value isn't in the answers, it's in the questions. Breaking down your problem into a clearly worded, solvable problem may lead YOU to a solution. I highly encourage you to write up the question, even if you don't post it. – corsiKa Jul 8 '16 at 15:30
  • 7
    You might add a significant disclaimer about posting IP or internal information and getting fired, this sort of advice might be useful but also might cause an OP serious problems depending on the company/contractual agreements they have.. – enderland Jul 8 '16 at 15:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.