Blocked: Easy methods to Ask For Assist as an Intern

You grinded LeetCode, nailed the interview course of, and obtained an internship at a tremendous firm. Congrats! However now it’s week three of your internship, you don’t have any thought how something works, and also you’ve written one line of code previously two days.

How do you ask for assist? Whom do you ask for assist? Must you even ask for assist?

Working at Slack, I discovered that figuring out the right way to navigate these conditions and unblock your self is important to having a profitable internship. Studying the right way to study typically felt extra necessary than studying the technical materials itself.


  1. I’m going into my final 12 months on the College of Virginia, majoring in Pc Science
  2. Earlier than Slack, my solely work expertise was at a small startup the place there was just one different iOS engineer; this summer season was a totally new expertise for me.


My challenge

  • I interned on the iOS Software Infrastructure staff. My challenge centered across the Mentions tab (also called the Actions tab)
  • I used to be tasked with altering the information supplier for the Actions tab
    • Earlier than: knowledge refreshed from an API name triggered by handbook pull down, or 60 second timer
    • After: use incoming WebSocket occasions with message knowledge to replace the display, as a substitute of ready for the subsequent API name

The primary a part of my challenge centered round including listening for updates to message fashions related to present actions. The technical a part of this challenge was not that tough by itself. It nonetheless took me round half of my internship, although, as a result of I used to be familiarizing myself with the codebase and — extra importantly — studying the right way to study.

The second a part of my challenge concerned including a brand new knowledge supplier that streamed all actions from WebSocket occasions, after which mixed it with the present knowledge stream. This was a a lot tougher job than the primary half, however as a result of I had realized the right way to unblock myself, every part went lots quicker; I used to be by no means caught for that lengthy.

Hopefully, a number of the issues I realized this summer season may help future interns get to that time earlier of their internship!

When to ask for assist

Step one to figuring out when to ask for assistance is studying that the business is a totally completely different world than faculty . There isn’t any dishonest, there are not any particular person grades, there are not any exams. Every thing, particularly at Slack, is collaborative. If it’s going to take you two days to repair a bug, however one other engineer can inform you what’s improper in two minutes, you ask for assist.

A very powerful query to ask your self when deciding whether or not to ask for assistance is:

Will I study something from spending extra time on this?

Your job as an intern is to study as a lot as you’ll be able to. Generally, you’ll study lots from taking the time to step by an issue. Different occasions, you would possibly waste a complete day within the debugger on a easy downside that may be solved with a one-sentence clarification out of your mentor.

Forms of issues you shouldn’t spend vital time tackling by yourself:

  • Formatting
  • Syntax
  • Which perform to name to get a sure sort of information

Forms of issues you would possibly wish to spend a while tackling by yourself:

  • How a perform you’re calling truly will get the information you want
  • How modifications within the state of part of the app get mirrored within the UI

The important thing distinction between these two kinds of issues is the distinction between information and understanding. It’s best to solely spend the time to step by an issue by yourself if doing so will depart you with a greater comprehension of how issues work.

Even when approaching issues by your self may help you study, generally you continue to would possibly need assistance from another person to maneuver ahead. That is completely advantageous! Apps like Slack are extremely difficult, and interns usually are not anticipated to have the ability to perceive every part by themselves. So long as you ask for assist in the fitting manner, there may be nothing improper with it.

Easy methods to ask for assist

Ask questions which are easy to reply.

When you’re asking a knowledge-based query, that is fairly simple as a result of there may be usually one easy reply. For instance, this can be a query I requested originally of my internship:

If you find yourself blocked on a extra difficult downside, asking the fitting query turns into lots tougher. I positively had bother making an attempt to seize the complexity of issues whereas nonetheless offering an easy manner for another person to reply.

Step one that helped me was merely spending time making an attempt to grasp the issue. When you perceive 95% of the change you’re making an attempt to make, clarifying that final 5% is lots simpler for another person to do than stepping by the whole course of. In my expertise, persons are very prepared that can assist you if it’s clear that you just’ve frolicked gaining understanding of the techniques you’re working with earlier than asking them for assist. Generally, you’ll even reply your individual query within the strategy of making an attempt to grasp the issue!

When you nonetheless need assistance after making an attempt to achieve an understanding of the issue you’re engaged on, the subsequent step is to supply as a lot context as you’ll be able to when asking your query.

This could contain describing:

  • What you perceive about the issue
  • What you don’t perceive about the issue
  • What you’ve modified
  • The anticipated conduct vs. the precise output

As an alternative of claiming one thing like, “I’m having bother implementing <characteristic>, are you able to assist?” say one thing like, “I attempted utilizing <perform> to implement <characteristic>, however as a substitute of <anticipated conduct>, <precise conduct> is occurring. Do you will have any thought the right way to method this?”

One other technique for unblocking your self is pair programming or calling with somebody in your staff. I might positively advocate doing this as a lot as attainable, particularly to your tougher issues.

Whom to ask for assist

At my final internship, my supervisor was additionally the one different iOS engineer on the firm. In different phrases, in 99% of conditions the one individual I requested for assist was my supervisor. This summer season, I discovered myself on a staff of 14 individuals, all with information in several areas. It was now not easy to know whom to ask for assist.

What I realized:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for assist in a channel. When you don’t know who to ask, it’s a lot better to ask in a public channel than to DM half of your staff till somebody may help you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or supervisor whom they assume it is best to ask.
  3. If somebody helped you with a sure space earlier than, don’t be afraid to ask them for assistance on the identical matter once more.

Evaluating two examples

Let me offer you two examples from this summer season. The primary one is a state of affairs the place I ought to have requested for assist earlier however didn’t. The opposite is one the place I efficiently took time to grasp the issue earlier than asking for assist.

State of affairs 1

This example is from the very starting of my internship. For context, in Slack’s iOS app there are completely different knowledge fashions for a Message and an Exercise (aka a message that mentions you or a response to your message). For every Exercise, we now have an related id that appears one thing like:


I used to be making an attempt to vary the actions knowledge supplier to hear for updates to any messages related to actions. Messages even have a id, so I added a stream of Message fashions with the identical id as the present Exercise fashions. Unexpectedly although, the stream wasn’t returning any Messages. I stepped by the debugger for some time and finally noticed that in different elements of the app that used MessagesDataProvider, Message ids appeared completely different; all of them had no sort and simply appeared like:


I wasn’t certain if this id discrepancy was from a mistake I had made when making native modifications to Message knowledge, or if it was as a result of ids are completely different in Actions and Messages. At this level, I ought to have merely requested, “Are Exercise and Message ids completely different?” to see the right way to method this downside. As an alternative of asking a clarifying query, I jumped straight into discovering an answer. I ended up utilizing one other Exercise discipline messageIdentifier because the ID to stream Messages, which appeared to work.

The issue was that as a result of I by no means requested a query, I didn’t really perceive why the ids have been completely different, regardless that it appeared I had discovered an answer. Afterward, I ran right into a bunch of issues as a result of once I began creating Actions from Messages, I copied all of the Message fields, together with id! This precipitated issues with duplicate actions, as a result of I used to be writing the identical Exercise with two completely different ids (one with the sort, one with out).

It seems, as you might have guessed, that Exercise and Message ids are simply formatted otherwise and I wanted to transform between the 2. I finally clarified this by asking somebody. Nevertheless, I might have saved myself hours and hours of time if I had merely requested this query as quickly as I noticed the id discrepancy. This was a information-based query and never an understanding-based query, so I ought to have requested as quickly as I wanted clarification. I’m glad this occurred in direction of the start of my internship, as a result of I used to be capable of study from it and be extra prepared to ask information primarily based questions sooner or later.

State of affairs 2

This example comes from midway by my internship. I had simply completed the primary a part of my challenge and was beginning the second half: including the power to stream Actions created from a special supply (WebSocket occasions) than we usually do.

Primarily based on a suggestion from my supervisor, I took a complete day simply to write down a doc that defined precisely how knowledge flows from the community request that returns actions to the UI within the mentions tab. Doing this gave me an immensely higher understanding earlier than I began the issue. As soon as I did begin, I spent a number of days implementing a primary answer that appeared to work from my exams. It was at this level, after gaining some understanding of what I used to be altering, that I requested for evaluate on my modifications.

The PR evaluate got here again, and it turned out that I did it utterly improper. Nevertheless, as a result of I had a strong understanding of the system, I instantly requested for assist and joined a Huddle with two employees engineers on my staff. We mentioned one of the simplest ways to method the issue; it turned out that I needed to write a brand new knowledge supplier for the actions tab that mixed a stream of actions from the final API name with a stream of actions filtered on the final timestamp of the opposite stream.

This one Huddle in all probability saved me weeks of time that I might have spent if I had tried to simply sort out the issue and create an ideal answer alone. Nevertheless, if I had requested for assist earlier than I understood the issue, I wouldn’t have been capable of achieve a lot from the decision.

The takeaway from this example is that it is best to attempt to discover the candy spot of asking for assist: it is best to perceive sufficient that different individuals can effectively allow you to, but in addition ask early sufficient that their assist saves you time.

Massive takeaways

Studying the right way to work within the business is as necessary, if no more, than studying the technical facet of software program engineering. I additionally discovered myself lots much less careworn once I turned extra comfy asking for assist. As soon as I turned comfy, I felt like far more of a staff member than a person engineer and had much more enjoyable day-to-day.

My closing recommendation is simply to take pleasure in your time as an intern! Twelve weeks flies by and it truly is such an superior alternative to be an intern at Slack. I’ve had a tremendous summer season and I hope any future interns studying this can too!

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