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You are allowed to ask beginner questions in your techie communities

When I talk with new people in the development community, I often hear that they’re afraid of asking questions in public forums. They would explain their issue to me in person. When I ask them why don’t they ask in a specialized Slack, Facebook, or Stackoverflow community, they tell me that they don’t think they’re allowed to.

The reasons they give me range from “I don’t want to bother all these experienced people,” “I should be able to figure it out on my own,” to “I don’t want to look stupid.” I’m sure they have even more fears that they’re afraid of expressing.

This attitude is quite different from mine since I’ve been asking ‘stupid‘ questions in IT communities now for the last 20 years, and it’s just part of my workday.

How I approach asking for help with developer-related technology

I first try to find specialized Slack, Discord, IRC, Reddit, or StackExchange sites.

I join these communities and just lurk to get a feeling for the kind of questions people ask. I’m primarily interested in general support channels like #help or #beginner. This allows me to figure out what’s the appropriate complexity of questions that gets answers.

There’s an additional benefit to these communities that people there will share helpful articles, YouTube videos, and other materials.

It’s ok to ask many simple questions.

Sometimes I think that asking a question that seems too simple to ask (but I don’t know to figure it out) is somehow wrong. What I’ve learned through time is that people in #help channel genuinely like to help and answer these ‘basic‘ questions. An additional benefit is that if you’re sticking around for a few months, you’ll passively learn answers to these questions, and you’ll be able to help other newcomers.

Always keep in mind – there’s almost no risk in asking a question. The worst thing that will happen is you won’t get an answer. If the question isn’t well-formed, someone will ask for clarification, and you’ll also get a new insight into how to ask better questions in this area.

Extra credit: it builds rapport within the community

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that people who ask questions on their learning journey become part of the community. You start to recognize their nicknames and see them begin contributing to the ecosystem. They open issues in related Github projects, make code or documentation contributions, and start attending conferences.

Swyx calls this Learning in public and uses it as a fundamental stepping stone in getting mentors.