How to Answer Your Own Tech Question
Congratulations! You’ve finally hit that milestone of wanting to break into tech for so long and finally doing it! Now comes your performance on day 1 and beyond. That’s enough pressure to drive anybody batty. Knowing if it’s “okay” to ask a question feels scary. I know great cultures, will say, just ask. Whenever you have a question. Ask. The truth is though that some questions are more well-thought out than others.
When it comes to technology we can sometimes think that if someone with more experience just “told us the answer” we could move forward. That is typically not the case. You have plenty to learn from someone more experienced. Don’t waste their time or yours on low-value questions.
Take the time to go through this process to ensure you are armed with great information, a very specific question and thoughtfulness about your manager’s time.
When & how to ask a question on day one of your job
Surprising though it is, most tech questions you can answer on your own without help from another person. I know that sounds like malarkey. I often hear women entering tech say, “I want a really supportive team who will help me in my career.” What’s behind that is that they want to replace their own personal confidence with a workplace solution. Perhaps a social need, as well, but in general they want to be confident that if they don’t know an answer, there will be someone there “smarter” than them to help them. The magical unicorn manager who is available to help them answer each and every question you have.
The reality is, any reasonable work environment will be able to answer your questions.
The questions to consider is: What type of question will I ask?
That question means everything for your future.
If you are the type of person who asks really great questions, you’ll be able to find a really great workplace. You’ll also be compensated with a really great salary. Why? Because you are absolutely deserving of it.
So if you have ever gone straight to your manager to ask a question the moment it popped into your head — this information is for you!
I want you to learn this strategy because on day one of your job (and any day after that), you don’t want to be that person asking your manager 101 questions that you could have found the solution for, if only took a little time. You are special and wonderful and capable. You are also less expensive to your company than your manager so whenever you can save her time by using yours, that’s typically the tradeoff your organization will appreciate.
Plus, you want to feel smart, you want to be smart. So let’s practice how.
Let’s say you run into a hurdle in your work.
Hurdle: a problem in your tech work (e.g., setting up your environment, coding, user research etc.) that is preventing you from moving forward.
Please note: a hurdle in tech is not cause for frustration. It is a perfectly normal part of the daily work and how you approach it changes everything.
You have a hurdle, now what do you do?
Your brain will immediately think, I’ll ask a manager to help me. She’ll know the answer. She’s smarter than me! She’s been here longer! She is familiar with this set up.
That’s okay. That’s just your brain going into problem solving mode. Allow that thought to come and go from your brain. Now offer your brain this thought:
First brain, we’re going to go through the checklist to ensure that if we DO ask our manager a question, we’re confident it’ll be more effective because we have taken the time to ask a really great question. The problem-solution cycle in tech improves when we give “the expert” excellent context in the form of information so she can be more effective with help.
If I solve it on my own, so much the better!
Steps to make you an all-star at work
- What is the exact problem you are trying to solve right now?
This one can be tricky because oftentimes one problem gets stacked on top of others. Be sure to separate the problems out so that you can clearly search for a specific solution to that one problem. Then move on to the next hurdle.
2. Define 3 steps have you already taken to solve this hurdle that did not work for you:
- Provide links and a description of what you did and what the results were.
- Check the dates and versions on the resources that you’ve found. Do not attempt a solution that does not align with the timeline and versions of what you are using. These two factors, along with compatibility make up the majority of technical problems.
- Review the following for the most common tech issues:
- Check dates
- Check versions
- Check compatibility — hardware, OS, software
- Architecture — hierarchy — folder structure and names
3. Why do you believe you have hit a roadblock?
- Being the person closest to the problem, you likely have a gut feeling of why this is the case. If you have a Mac and are getting OS errors, you can look to compatibility. This is a great high-level hurdle that can be quickly identified and help you from going down the rabbit-hole of useless solutions.
4. Define the why (even if you are unsure) will help you develop better and better intuition over time.
- Have you stepped away from the work (for an hour or more) and returned to evaluate the solution from a new perspective?
- This allows your brain to transition from focus mode to diffuse mode, the more creative part of your brain.
- It is important to access that part of your brain, because if you have taken 3 steps and not found the solution, it’s because the solution doesn’t exist in that mode of your brain.
- Not every hurdle will be able to be put off until the next day. If you can, though, by working on something and allowing your brain to “sleep on the problem,” you will be amazed at how often that is enough for you to answer your own question.
5. Have you attempted solutions offered by your peers?
- First, it’s important that in general, you are offering to help your peers with their challenges. A regular practice of this, whether in the office or in a tech forum, will help YOU develop your problem solving skills, because you are exposing yourself to other problems, gaining more and deeper knowledge about how to approach difficult hurdles depending on specific situations. Consider it your responsibility to think through your peer’s problems — because it benefits you!
- Getting input from at least 2 other sources, such as peers will help you ensure you have thought of all of the “low hanging fruit” on this particular hurdle. Someone else is more likely to bring in creativity to their problem solving set because they are not so focused on the details of the situation. Even asking them a question is helpful.
6. Ask a manager
Providing a summary of all of the details asked for in the above, ask the question as specifically as possible providing the most relevant context (what you’ve tried and what did or didn’t work). This is the level of detail that will make you an All-Star At Work because you are able to Answer Your Own Tech Question!
Practice it every time and it will become a habit!