Its your secret superpower
It’s no secret, working in tech is crazy competitive. Let’s say you eked through your CS degree, or skipped that entirely and hacked your way into a 6-figure tech job and now its just a matter of time before your team finds out. Hiring you must have been a lapse in judgement or a clerical error right?
What I’m describing is the insidious and prolific Imposter Syndrome and it plagues roughly half of developers and transcends levels, degrees, and years of experience. It’s not even unique to tech, as many knowledge workers report similar feelings of perceived inadequacy. You’re constantly under pressure to put up a front that says “I know everything” because doing so typically results in influence, upward career trajectory, and usually more moolah 💰.
Given the competitive nature of the tech industry and the reality of imposter syndrome, asking for help can be rough. I’m here to tell you that asking for help (assuming you’ve done your due diligence research and aren’t asking easily searchable things like “how to for loop”) is not a sign of intellectual deficiency, but is actually a really powerful tool for building influence, not a weakness. Here are a few reasons I ask people for help all the time and how it’s helped me and hopefully could help you.
Asking for help makes people feel valued
People like feeling useful. Asking someone for their expertise gives them an opportunity to show off knowledge they went through the trouble of collecting and lets them feel like they’re making a positive contribution to the group. I personally enjoy helping people reach their full potential and feel like I’m making a positive contribution to your growth, and an organization as a whole answering questions, regardless of simplicity.
Seeking advice grows your sphere of influence
Leaders recognize that they don’t/cant know everything about everything, which is why we surround ourselves with experts and listen to their guidance. Seeking that guidance fosters collaboration and, if done well, makes others willing to work with you again.
As an added bonus, you’re unlocking the Ben Franklin effect where you ask for something small now, opening up an opportunity to ask for something large later. In my experience, I made some of my strongest allies by starting with asking to walk through some logic, then asking them to review a PR or two, and finally asking them to back up a project idea that turns into a product.
Help others find their voice
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll notice Im a big fan of asynchronous communication and collaborating in tools like Slack or Discord. If you’ve worked with me, you’ll also know I am totally unafraid of being dumb in a public Slack channel. I’ve been pulled aside a few times in DMs asking why I wouldn’t just DM the person in charge of whatever it is Im asking about, or why I would ask a seemingly simple question. At the same time I would also receive DMs thanking me for asking the question so they wouldn’t have to.
In school it’s often said that there are no dumb questions, so ask, because it’s likely someone else has the same question and is too afraid to speak up. Same rules apply and asking for help in public facilitates a broad discussion, unlocking unlikely collaboration opportunities and leveling up everyone. It also encourages new hires and juniors to seek help or advice which helps keep projects on track.
What’s the point of open offices and public chat rooms anyway if we’re all just going to pop our headphones on and DM each other anyway 🤷♂ ?
Closing the loop
Speaking as someone who leads teams in tech, let me start off by saying:
Trying to keep a low profile & conceal your knowledge gaps is the worst thing you can do for your career.
Socratic wisdom dictates the person who knows they know nothing is truly wise — meaning it is on you to recognize where you need help and seek the resources necessary to be better. You’re not doing yourself any favors stalling out and pretending to know everything. In fact, you’re likely also stalling the entire team!
Collaborating and sharing knowledge, or simply asking others to share knowledge with you is an underrated tool in your tool belt and you should never be faulted for using it. Innovation and progress comes from transparency, collaboration, and curiosity; so until next time — question everything.