Asking For Directions

It’s Week 8 of the Northcoders Bootcamp — Careers Week, and reflecting on everything that I’ve learnt so far, one of the most important things that I’ve learnt has been totally unrelated to code — asking for help.

As a result of having very attentive parents I was an annoying overachieving child, and never really had to ask for help. As an adult this has made me competitive and hardworking, but an impossible perfectionist, I’ll spend hours learning to do something, so that I can appear to just be able to do things and no-one ever gets to see me fail. Or I’ll only do things that I’m good at — which is why I’d prefer to paint a room than dance in it.

In Week 3 of the bootcamp I spent an afternoon on a solo-sprint. I was confused by part of the task, and instead of asking for help at the start I’d tried to muddle through with the can-do attitude of someone who threw out the flat-pack furniture instructions having only the vague concept of a chair in mind.

I’d done the essence of the task, in that I’d got (some of) the required information, but I hadn’t followed the steps, and as a result I hadn’t taken the journey I needed to in order to learn a new skill. I resisted asking for help at 3pm because it seemed too late in the day to be asking for such basic help, so I tried to re-jig the whole thing and got even more tangled. When I finally asked for help at 4:30pm I was feeling hopeless and exasperated. The tutor was friendly and sympathetic, talked me through the README and said ‘this is going to sound brutal, but I’d recommend starting over with this.’ I was annoyed, but only with myself. I’d ignored the bit that I didn’t understand, and doubled down on my wasted time by being too stubborn to ask for help from the world’s most approachable people. On a 14 week bootcamp, if you can’t do something there’s nowhere to hide, but if you’re hiding you’re just not making the most of the opportunity to learn. Since then I’ve been trying to ask for help whenever I need it and remind myself that there’s no shame in asking for guidance with something that is both complex and new. I’ve welcomed opportunities for peer-programming, treating them as an opportunity to learn from my peers, and it’s really made me appreciate the network of fledgeling coders that I’m now part of.

Our biggest strengths are usually our biggest weaknesses. I know that for me I will always do a task to the best possible standard, but I’ll also torture myself with the tiniest imperfections and exhaust myself to the point of dreaming in for-loops. With so much to squeeze into such a short timeframe there’s just no time to waste, asking peers and tutors for help is quickly becoming one of my strengths, even if I still obstinately refuse to do it with the Ikea furniture.