The proper way to ask for help in tech.
"I didn’t hear back from him. Just because they are good at something doesn’t mean they should be arrogant, right?" No, they shouldn’t and maybe they aren’t. Hear me out first.
We, the beginners who are just starting out on our journey in the field of Information Technology tend to be impatient and naïve initially (specially the teenagers). We get fascinated by this industry and its potential but we often don’t know from where to start or are simply lost. So, tell me what do you do when you get lost on a path? You ask for help from those who’ve walked down that road before you, right? This is where the real problem begins.
We don’t have the slightest idea about how to approach a professional to ask queries or for suggestions and feedback. No one talks about this issue and there are barely any good articles on that but the real question is, can there be a proper guide on how to approach someone or be more social?
Well in my opinion, there can’t be. Because we humans, by nature, are social. Teaching us the same is like teaching a fish how to swim. We don’t need that but the noise of social media around, has actually made us less social, dulled our senses and made us forget the core value of being a human being. We like to be empathetic in front of our mobile screens but not in reality. We don’t value time, neither ours nor others or else these things would’ve been much simpler.
Just think about it. You are reaching out to someone for help who is really good at what they do which means two things:
They’ll be humble but busy. So just introduce yourself formally, tailor your questions well, be honest and respectful of their time and have some patience for the reply and woosh! You’re done. Was it hard? No. But we still don’t do it. Why? I answered that above.
Sorry if it was too much but I just wanted to explain the problems to you well before sharing some ways to fix them and if you read it till here then I won’t disappoint you now. These are some basic mistakes that I’ve seen beginners make and how to avoid them to increase your odds of getting a response. Here we go:
Don’t start with greetings or wait for a reply to ask your queries: This point needed to be at the top as I see most of the professionals being annoyed by the “Hi” and “Hello” messages or smaller chunks of messages with no clear question or subject. Please don’t do that. Do you really think they have the time for a chit chat with you? No. So just get to the subject of message and no, they won’t find it rude but would be happy instead that you valued their time.
Do your research and structure your question well: A half-baked message won’t get you a reply making you angry at the end and see them as arrogant (as I mentioned in the start). Trust me they are not arrogant (at least most of them aren’t). They just have a limited amount of time so make sure you have done some research and structured your message well to better your odds. This also shows that you’re serious about what you are asking and not texting them on a whim. A line by Eminem wraps up this point very well, "You only got one shot, do not miss the chance to blow"
Be patient: As I stated before that as beginners, we are impatient but sometimes it might happen that you won’t hear back from them for days and there can be multiple reasons for that. They either missed it as they receive 100s or 1000s of such messages everyday or they marked it for later or maybe something else. Be a bit empathetic, try to understand their reasons as well and reach out again after some days or tag them in your post asking for help if you follow them. (Most of them are pretty active on twitter.)
Be grateful and form connections: Don’t be mean and have an exit as soon as you got the help you needed or else it may damage their motivation to help your peers. Thank them properly and execute their advice. Reach out to them again shortly and show your progress. Trust me, they’d be more than happy to see that and it might register your name in their head and that is the best thing you can do because these people are certainly worth sharing a good bond with.
Here’s an example on reaching out for help with open-source:
“Needed help with Open-source. Aditya from this side. I’ve been learning web development for few months now and have also built decent projects with react.js and finally decided to contribute to the open-source to level up my skills or land a good job but the huge codebase overwhelms me and no amount of YouTube tutorials really focuses on the extreme beginner stuffs so reaching out to you as I’ve been following you for a while and have seen you posting about your open-source contributions. Would really appreciate your guidance and suggestions.”
I included the subject at the top because the first two lines of your message are what they see before even opening it (wise move, right?) and all of this in one single message. No smaller chunks, no extra cheesy stuffs, nothing.
Now a personal opinion before dropping the curtains: Always help others with those handful of things you learned. You don’t need to be perfect or solve their problem completely but even a small help with the right intention goes a long way and who knows you might get a 100x return on that because "law of karma" exists, doesn't it?