Blocked: Find out how 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 learn how to navigate these conditions and unblock your self is crucial to having a profitable internship. Studying learn how to study usually felt extra vital than studying the technical materials itself.


  1. I’m going into my final yr 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 very 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 info 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 screen, as an alternative of ready for the following API name

The primary a part of my challenge centered round including listening for updates to message fashions related to current actions. The technical a part of this challenge was not that troublesome 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 learn how 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 prevailing knowledge stream. This was a a lot tougher process than the primary half, however as a result of I had discovered learn how to unblock myself, the whole lot went so much quicker; I used to be by no means caught for that lengthy.

Hopefully, a number of the issues I discovered this summer season may also 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 trade is a very totally different world than college . There isn’t any dishonest, there aren’t any particular person grades, there aren’t any exams. Every part, 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 incorrect in two minutes, you ask for assist.

Crucial 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 so much from taking the time to step by means of an issue. Different instances, you may waste an entire day within the debugger on a easy downside that may be solved with a one-sentence rationalization out of your mentor.

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

  • Formatting
  • Syntax
  • Which perform to name to get a sure kind of knowledge

Forms of issues you may need to spend a while tackling by yourself:

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

The important thing distinction between these two varieties of issues is the distinction between data and understanding. It’s best to solely spend the time to step by means of 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 also help you study, generally you continue to may need assistance from another person to maneuver ahead. That is completely positive! Apps like Slack are extremely difficult, and interns aren’t anticipated to have the ability to perceive the whole lot by themselves. So long as you ask for assist in the best approach, there may be nothing incorrect with it.

Find out how to ask for assist

Ask questions which might be easy to reply.

For those who’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 in the beginning of my internship:

When you find yourself blocked on a extra difficult downside, asking the best query turns into so much tougher. I undoubtedly had bother attempting to seize the complexity of issues whereas nonetheless offering a simple approach for another person to reply.

Step one that helped me was merely spending time attempting to grasp the issue. For those who perceive 95% of the change you’re attempting to make, clarifying that final 5% is so much simpler for another person to do than stepping by means of all the course of. In my expertise, individuals are very prepared that will help you if it’s clear that you simply’ve frolicked gaining understanding of the methods you’re working with earlier than asking them for assist. Generally, you’ll even reply your personal query within the technique of attempting to grasp the issue!

For those who nonetheless need assistance after attempting to achieve an understanding of the issue you’re engaged on, the following step is to offer as a lot context as you’ll be able to when asking your query.

This will contain describing:

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

As a substitute 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 an alternative of <anticipated habits>, <precise habits> is occurring. Do you could have any thought learn how to strategy this?”

One other technique for unblocking your self is pair programming or calling with somebody in your staff. I might undoubtedly advocate doing this as a lot as doable, particularly in 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 folks, all with data in numerous areas. It was now not easy to know whom to ask for assist.

What I discovered:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for assist in a channel. For those who don’t know who to ask, it’s significantly better to ask in a public channel than to DM half of your staff till somebody may also help you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or supervisor whom they assume it’s 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 scenario 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 case is from the very starting of my internship. For context, in Slack’s iOS app there are totally different knowledge fashions for a Message and an Exercise (aka a message that mentions you or a response to your message). For every Exercise, now we have an related id that appears one thing like:


I used to be attempting to alter the actions knowledge supplier to pay attention 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 means of the debugger for some time and finally noticed that in different components of the app that used MessagesDataProvider, Message ids seemed totally different; all of them had no kind and simply seemed like:


I wasn’t positive if this id discrepancy was from a mistake I had made when making native adjustments to Message knowledge, or if it was as a result of ids are totally different in Actions and Messages. At this level, I ought to have merely requested, “Are Exercise and Message ids totally different?” to see learn how to strategy this downside. As a substitute of asking a clarifying query, I jumped straight into discovering an answer. I ended up utilizing one other Exercise area 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 actually perceive why the ids have been totally different, despite the fact 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 prompted issues with duplicate actions, as a result of I used to be writing the identical Exercise with two totally different ids (one with the kind, one with out).

It seems, as you’ll 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. Nonetheless, 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 data-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 the 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 data primarily based questions sooner or later.

State of affairs 2

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

Based mostly on a suggestion from my supervisor, I took an entire 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 fundamental resolution 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 evaluation on my adjustments.

The PR evaluation got here again, and it turned out that I did it fully incorrect. Nonetheless, as a result of I had a stable 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 best ways to strategy 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 resolution alone. Nonetheless, if I had requested for assist earlier than I understood the issue, I wouldn’t have been capable of acquire a lot from the decision.

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

Large takeaways

Studying learn how to work within the trade is as vital, if no more, than studying the technical aspect of software program engineering. I additionally discovered myself so much much less pressured 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 last 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 may too!

If you’re taken with engaged on Slack’s cell apps, try our open roles! Apply now