July 13, 2024
Blocked: How you can 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 haven’t any thought how something works, and also you’ve written one line of code prior to now 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 understanding navigate these conditions and unblock your self is crucial to having a profitable internship. Studying be taught typically felt extra vital than studying the technical materials itself.


  1. I’m going into my final yr on the College of Virginia, majoring in Laptop 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 very 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 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 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 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 activity than the primary half, however as a result of I had discovered unblock myself, the whole lot went quite a bit sooner; I used to be by no means caught for that lengthy.

Hopefully, among the issues I discovered this summer time will help 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 trade is a very totally different world than faculty . There isn’t a dishonest, there are not any particular person grades, there are not any checks. All the things, 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 flawed 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 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. Typically, you’ll be taught quite a bit from taking the time to step by way of an issue. Different occasions, you may waste an entire day within the debugger on a easy drawback that may be solved with a one-sentence rationalization 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 kind of information

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

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

The important thing distinction between these two forms of issues is the distinction between information and understanding. You must solely spend the time to step by way 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 will help you be taught, generally you continue to may need assistance from another person to maneuver ahead. That is completely high quality! Apps like Slack are extremely difficult, and interns usually are not anticipated to have the ability to perceive the whole lot by themselves. So long as you ask for assist in the precise method, there may be nothing flawed with it.

How you can ask for assist

Ask questions which can 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, it is a query I requested originally of my internship:

When you find yourself blocked on a extra difficult drawback, asking the precise query turns into quite a bit more durable. I positively had bother attempting to seize the complexity of issues whereas nonetheless offering an easy method 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 quite a bit simpler for another person to do than stepping by way of the whole course of. In my expertise, persons are very prepared that can assist you if it’s clear that you simply’ve frolicked gaining understanding of the programs you’re working with earlier than asking them for assist. Typically, you’ll even reply your personal query within the strategy of attempting to grasp the issue!

For those who nonetheless need assistance after attempting to realize 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 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 <function>, are you able to assist?” say one thing like, “I attempted utilizing <perform> to implement <function>, however as an alternative of <anticipated conduct>, <precise conduct> is occurring. Do you have got any thought method this?”

One other technique for unblocking your self is pair programming or calling with somebody in your staff. I’d positively advocate 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 individual I requested for assist was my supervisor. This summer time, 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 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 will help you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or supervisor whom they suppose 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 give you two examples from this summer time. 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.

Scenario 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, we have now an related id that appears one thing like:


I used to be attempting 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 way of the debugger for some time and ultimately noticed that in different elements of the app that used MessagesDataProvider, Message ids appeared totally different; all of them had no kind 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 totally different in Actions and Messages. At this level, I ought to have merely requested, “Are Exercise and Message ids totally different?” to see method 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 totally different, regardless that 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 precipitated 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 in another way and I wanted to transform between the 2. I finally clarified this by asking somebody. Nonetheless, I’d 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 in a position to be taught from it and be extra prepared to ask information primarily based questions sooner or later.

Scenario 2

This case comes from midway by way of 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 an entire 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 just a few days implementing a fundamental resolution that appeared to work from my checks. It was at this level, after gaining some understanding of what I used to be altering, that I requested for overview on my modifications.

The PR overview got here again, and it turned out that I did it utterly flawed. Nonetheless, as a result of I had a strong understanding of the system, I instantly requested for assist and joined a Huddle with two workers engineers on my staff. We mentioned the easiest way 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’d have spent if I had tried to only 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 achieve a lot from the decision.

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

Large takeaways

Studying work within the trade is as vital, if no more, than studying the technical facet of software program engineering. I additionally discovered myself quite a bit much less harassed once I turned extra snug asking for assist. As soon as I turned snug, 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 get pleasure from 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 time and I hope any future interns studying it will too!

In case you are eager about engaged on Slack’s cellular apps, take a look at our open roles! Apply now