Blocked: The way to Ask For Assist as an Intern

You grinded LeetCode, nailed the interview course of, and bought an internship at an incredible firm. Congrats! However now it’s week three of your internship, you haven’t any concept how something works, and also you’ve written one line of code up to now two days.

How do you ask for assist? Whom do you ask for assist? Do you have to even ask for assist?

Working at Slack, I discovered that understanding how one can navigate these conditions and unblock your self is crucial to having a profitable internship. Studying how one can be taught usually 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 time was a totally new expertise for me.


My mission

  • I interned on the iOS Utility Infrastructure staff. My mission centered across the Mentions tab (often known as 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 guide pull down, or 60 second timer
    • After: use incoming WebSocket occasions with message knowledge to replace the display screen, as a substitute of ready for the subsequent API name

The primary a part of my mission centered round including listening for updates to message fashions related to present actions. The technical a part of this mission 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 how one can be taught.

The second a part of my mission 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 more durable process than the primary half, however as a result of I had realized how one can unblock myself, the whole lot went rather a lot sooner; I used to be by no means caught for that lengthy.

Hopefully, a few of the issues I realized this summer time can assist future interns get to that time earlier of their internship!

When to ask for assist

Step one to understanding when to ask for assistance is studying that the business is a totally completely different world than faculty . There is no such thing as a dishonest, there aren’t any particular person grades, there aren’t any assessments. All the pieces, particularly at Slack, is collaborative. If it’s going to take you two days to repair a bug, however one other engineer can let you know what’s mistaken in two minutes, you ask for assist.

An important query to ask your self when deciding whether or not to ask for assistance is:

Will I be taught something from spending extra time on this?

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

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

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

Varieties of issues you may wish to spend a while tackling by yourself:

  • How a perform you’re calling really 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 varieties of issues is the distinction between data and understanding. It is 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 can assist you be taught, typically you continue to may need assistance from another person to maneuver ahead. That is completely effective! Apps like Slack are extremely difficult, and interns should not anticipated to have the ability to perceive the whole lot by themselves. So long as you ask for assist in the appropriate manner, there may be nothing mistaken with it.

The way to ask for assist

Ask questions which are simple to reply.

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

If you find yourself blocked on a extra difficult drawback, asking the appropriate query turns into rather a lot more durable. I undoubtedly had hassle making an attempt to seize the complexity of issues whereas nonetheless offering a simple manner for another person to reply.

Step one that helped me was merely spending time making an attempt to know the issue. Should you perceive 95% of the change you’re making an attempt to make, clarifying that final 5% is rather a lot simpler for another person to do than stepping by all the course of. In my expertise, persons are very prepared that will help you if it’s clear that you just’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 strategy of making an attempt to know the issue!

Should you nonetheless need assistance after making an attempt to achieve an understanding of the issue you’re engaged on, the subsequent step is to offer as a lot context as you possibly can when asking your query.

This may 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 an alternative of claiming one thing like, “I’m having hassle implementing <characteristic>, are you able to assist?” say one thing like, “I attempted utilizing <perform> to implement <characteristic>, however as a substitute of <anticipated habits>, <precise habits> is occurring. Do you have got any concept how one can strategy this?”

One other technique for unblocking your self is pair programming or calling with somebody in your staff. I might undoubtedly suggest doing this as a lot as attainable, particularly on your more durable 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 particular person I requested for assist was my supervisor. This summer time, I discovered myself on a staff of 14 individuals, all with data in numerous areas. It was now not simple to know whom to ask for assist.

What I realized:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for assist in a channel. Should you 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 can assist you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or supervisor whom they suppose you must ask.
  3. If somebody helped you with a sure space earlier than, don’t be afraid to ask them for assistance on the identical subject once more.

Evaluating two examples

Let me offer you two examples from this summer time. 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 know 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 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 have now an related id that appears one thing like:


I used to be making an attempt to alter 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 regarded completely different; all of them had no sort and simply regarded like:


I wasn’t positive 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 how one can strategy this drawback. As an alternative 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 completely different, although it appeared I had discovered an answer. In a while, 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 completely different ids (one with the sort, one with out).

It seems, as you’ll have guessed, that Exercise and Message ids are simply formatted in another way and I wanted to transform between the 2. I ultimately 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 direction of the start of my internship, as a result of I used to be in a position to be taught 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 my internship. I had simply completed the primary a part of my mission and was beginning the second half: including the flexibility to stream Actions created from a distinct supply (WebSocket occasions) than we usually do.

Primarily based on a suggestion from my supervisor, I took a complete day simply to jot 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 resolution that appeared to work from my assessments. It was at this level, after gaining some understanding of what I used to be altering, that I requested for evaluation on my modifications.

The PR evaluation got here again, and it turned out that I did it fully mistaken. 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 deal with 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 in a position to acquire a lot from the decision.

The takeaway from this case is that you must attempt to discover the candy spot of asking for assist: you must perceive sufficient that different individuals can effectively make it easier to, but additionally ask early sufficient that their assist saves you time.

Large takeaways

Studying how one can work within the business is as necessary, if no more, than studying the technical aspect of software program engineering. I additionally discovered myself rather a lot much less confused 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 ultimate 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 an incredible summer time and I hope any future interns studying this can too!

If you’re excited by engaged on Slack’s cellular apps, try our open roles! Apply now