Why You Should

Never Ask “How” To Do Anything

Before Failing First

by Glen Elkins

Learning Is Constant

I’m a web developer. There’s always something new to learn. It’s both exciting and humbling to hear about new platforms, frameworks, and language. They are released constantly and gain popularity immediately.

Since the industry changes at a frenetic pace, no matter how experienced I might be, I’m a total fucking n00b at a whole bunch of stuff. There’s no point in getting cocky. If I don’t keep learning, I’ll be outdated in no time, left in the dust. Bye bye.

Get The Most Out of Your Mentor

Since I’m always learning, I often get “stuck,” for lack of a better term. Many times, even though I’ve been coding for many years, I’m working on something new for the first time. I learn much better from experience and seeing something rather than documentation. Sometimes, no mater what I Google, no solution is in sight.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some amazing mentors. The best mentors are patient, generous and push you to grow. Through learning from other people, I have picked up one essential idea. One thing that gets the most out of my mentors. One “pro tip” that stands above the rest.

Don’t ask “how” to do it, ask how to do it differently next time.

Proactive vs. Reactive

It’s much easier to understand how to do something once you’ve given it a shot. Even if you’ve failed, or spent way too long trying, you’re better off asking for help after you’ve tried. Like, really tried.

“Asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission.”

Just Fucking Do It

Afterwards, ask someone what they would have done differently. Sure, there’s a line between being stubborn about asking for help and lazily asking too soon. I’m not saying never ask for help, just don’t ask at the expense of trying for yourself.

You Suck

Give yourself permission to suck. It’s ok. Too many programmers pride themselves on being “the smartest guy in the room.” It’s time to ditch that attitude. Odds are, your colleagues are also smart.

Humble yourself by being public about your failures. Expose yourself to learning opportunities by being open to new ideas and different ways to solve problems.

No Wallflowers

If you sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to tell you exactly how to solve your problem, you’re going to learn the wrong things very slowly. A myopic view of how things work will take seed in your approach to problem solving.

Letting someone else solve your problem handicaps you. There’s not one way to solve something, there are dozens. Half the battle is in trying and failing.

Failing to solve a problem can teach you a ton:

  • Knowledge gaps: Exposing the holes in your skill set is a great way to start learning more.
  • Context: When you try (and fail), you’ll discover an enormous amount of resources that are available. You’ll also learn “Why is ‘Framework X’ built that way?”. Context enables you to ask better questions.
  • A Better Approach: Sometimes the best lesson learned is that you were solving the wrong problem altogether. Maybe you can skip over the problem by doing something completely different.

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