Development

Asking Questions as a Website Developer

I started working at WebDevStudios just over six months ago. Previously, I worked as the sole developer at a small design studio.

Beyond developing websites, I was responsible for making any development related decisions—from what tools were best for our clients down to whether a project was even feasible for our company. Since the rest of my team were non-technical, it fell to me to know the answers.

Then I started at WebDevStudios, and asking questions as a website developer became a necessity. From “How do I even use git?” to “What’s the best way to register this ACF block?” to “Does anyone have any idea how to make this search results listing page work how the client wants,” I had to become comfortable asking questions.

Luckily, the team here at WebDevStudios is great at answering questions.

Why is asking questions uncomfortable?

This is a photo of a collie dog looking into the camera with a confused look on its face.For me, asking questions as a website developer makes me feel like less of an authority. I like to know the answer and to have the answers, not ask someone else how to do something.

I certainly Googled and Stack Overflow-ed my way around, but never posted a question. I never asked questions on Twitter or asked people within my network.

Another reason why asking questions is so uncomfortable as a developer is that in the web development world, there’s also this attitude of developers needing to be “rock stars” or “ninjas” who can jump right in and have all the answers and write all the code.

That’s great in theory, but I think in practice, it can be intimidating for developers who have questions. When you’re learning a new language or framework or even just setting up a project in a new way, being afraid to ask a question can be a big roadblock to advancing your knowledge, and thus your career.

How I learned to ask questions

This is a photo of a neon sign hanging on an outdoor wall that says, "Ask."Joining WebDevStudios, I had to get comfortable asking questions. How? I told myself two things:

  1. There are no stupid questions.
  2. You know what you’re doing.

Number 1 is important because if you think your question is stupid, you’ll never ask it. That was the biggest hurdle for me to get through.

Joining a team of helpful engineers helped with this immensely. Instead of Googling hoping to find a result, I can post in the project Slack channel or general engineers channel and get an answer or jump on a Zoom with another engineer to talk through a solution.

Seeing my teammates model that behavior helped too. Every single engineer at WebDevStudios asks questions, at all levels. Senior, junior, lead, manager, director, at some point I have seen everyone pop into Slack and ask a question. In return, everyone is around to answer questions or rubber duck to find a solution.

Number 2 is important because it reminds me that not knowing an answer doesn’t mean I’m not good at my job or up to snuff as a developer. I don’t need to be the authority on WordPress or JavaScript or CSS to do my job. When I started, my manager assured me that all I needed to do was work within my skillset and I could ask questions when necessary.

Why should you ask questions as a website developer?

This is a desktop size chalkboard with the words, "How, who, what, when, why, where" written on it.First, the obvious: asking questions gets you the answer you need without ending up on page 25 of Google. It saves time, which is great for you, your team, and the client.

Second, when you’re on a team and you ask a question, the answer becomes shared knowledge. Maybe your rabbit hole search into Stack Overflow was successful, but then only you know the answer to that question. By asking questions in a Slack channel (or other group setting), everyone on the team can see the answer and refer to it if then encounter something similar.

Third, you’re on a team with a variety of skills and experience. Someone on your team has probably used whatever language or tool you’re asking about. You can and should make use of their firsthand experience. No single person can know everything about everything.

Finally, asking questions helps you become a better developer. By asking questions, you learn to talk about your code, explain how things work (or don’t work!) and communicate what you’re trying to do.

Personally, sometimes just talking through my code with someone else helps unblock me. While you may find a code snippet that works via a forum, copying and pasting doesn’t truly help you understand why you had a problem with your code or how the snippet you pasted in actually solves your problem.

How to ask questions

This is a close-up photo of five Lego Strom Troopers facing the same direction, but one of them is leaning a little forward and turned to look into the camera.The key is to be as specific as possible. Telling someone that whatever you’re working on isn’t working with no context wastes your time and theirs. Your teammates are taking time out of their day to help you, make sure you make it easy for them.

Some things I include when asking a question:

  • Context to the issue (For example: it’s happening locally but not on dev; it started happening after I upgraded WordPress to X version; etc.)
  • Error messages in the console or browser
  • Code snippets or screenshots
  • Things I’ve already tried
  • Lastly, thank the person or people who helped you out. At WebDevStudios we do this via virtual tacos in Slack.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that there are no stupid questions. Not knowing the answer doesn’t mean you’re not a great developer, it means you’re human.

If you’re interested in working on a team where you can feel comfortable asking questions, we’re hiring! Or, if you’re interested in working with a website developer that welcomes your client questions, contact us today.

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